This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V26", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Before taking up the subject the lecturer gave a short biographical sketch of Francois Andre"Mich-aux, by whose bequest these lectures were sustained. "He was the distinguished son of a distinguished sire." His father having been sent here during the latter part of the last century to collect plants which might advantageously be introduced into France, was one of the pioneer scientists of the country. The son sharing the father's enthusiasm returned from his home in France to his countrv in 1801 to continue the work his father had prosecuted earlier. His interest in the land never abated, and in his will twelve thousand dollars were bequeathed to the American Philosophical Society of this city. From a portion of the income of this fund the lectures bearing the name of Michaux were sustained.
The lecturer then paid a well deserved tribute to the Hon. Eli K. Price, whose memory reaching back nearly or quite four-score years enabled him to discern the great changes which the disappearing forests had made in the country. Mr. Price was among the earliest to recognize the fact that the question of forestry must soon become one of paramount importance to the nation, and his active advocacy of its claims had lent a most notable impulse to the movement in this State. The weight of his influence so freely and earnestly given entitled him more and more to the gratitude of the public, for it will come to be regarded in the future as a public benefaction, because its importance will appear greater as the years pass.
There is one aspect from which we had seldom considered our forests. That is as inspiring literature and cultivating the nobler sentiments. If we were to strike out all the happy illusions and similes which poetry had derived from them, if we were to obliterate all the forcible prose to which they had given origin, there would be a great blank left in the scholarly record of which our nation is so proud. Evangeline, probably the most immortal of all American poetical productions, teemed with allusions so accurate and descriptions so perfect, that the forest scenes of Longfellow were photographs in language, sharp, clear as crystals, and of indescribable beauty. The first page of the poem would make an author famous. The wailing wind in the tree-tops calls us to "list to the mourniul tradition still sung by the pines of the forest".
Within a year there had come from the Bureau of Education, in the Department of the Interior, at Washington, an official plea for planting trees in school yards. This was a step in the right direction, if for no other reason than simply to teach the average American lad that he must learn to pass a tree without striking or cutting it.
After having spent as a nation about two centuries or more industriously removing forests the fact is becoming appreciated that America is not, on the whole, a timbered continent, but that the greater part of it is either sparsely timbered or wholly treeless. The lecturer quoted from Mr. Little, of Montreal, "that if all the tree-destroying agencies of the North were concentrated in Alabama or Georgia they would sweep all the merchantable timber out of either State in a year, and that it would require but six months to do the same for Florida or either of the Carolinas".
The problem had been put in another way: that if we had to import all our lumber from a foreign country the entire sailing tonnage of the world would not suffice to do the work. These statements it is to be observed were the results of calculation and not guessing.
Each year witnessed the removal from our soil of forests equal in area to the State of Indiana. The first-hand value of our boards and like material at the mill is about $400,000,000 a year. If we include the entire forest product, i. e., firewood, railroad ties, etc, along with the boards, it will not fall much short of $1,000,000,000 each year.
Such destruction represents the process by which a rich man becomes poor, using both principal and interest. Hence the income is in no sense a revenue to the nation, it is a simple squandering of its resources when we remember that there has been almost a race as to what speculator should place the most timber on the market in the least time. Long ago the note of alarm was sounded, on data which, though unreliable, were the best that could be had. Now we know certainly that six years will practically exhaust the white pine and thirty years all our available timber, if the present rate of destruction is kept up. The destruction of timber by fire in Pennsylvania in 1880 exceeded three millions of dollars.
As a factor in the importance of our forests one might mention the relation they bear to public health. There were towns and cities in the Middle States where the tree planting was discouraged, and even those planted by the wiser men of half a century ago were removed. This was often done because trees were alleged to make the towns unhealthy. Not one single case of the kind can be proven in the whole Northern United States. When we bear in mind the thousands of factory chimneys that are polluting the air and then remember that to the trees we must look as a great source of atmospheric purification, such removal of trees or failure to plant them is a sin against the lungs and lives of this generation and the next too.
[This is an abstract prepared for the Philadelphia Public Ledger, of a largely attended lecture at Fairmount Park].