This section is from the book "Economic Tree Planting", by Birdsey Grant Northrop. Also available from Amazon: Economic Tree-planting.
Indeed we have already a great Sahara in Connecticut produced by improvidence and neglect. The local traditions tell us that the "sand-blow," covering so large an area in the towns of North Haven and Wallingford, which, with its clouds of dust, is a literal eye-sore to all travelers on the New Haven & Hartford Railway, was once finely wooded. Here and there clumps of low cedars and pines, the lone relics of a former growth, still resist the drifting sands. So general is the conviction that this sand blow is utterly irreclaimable that it has long since been abandoned to hopeless sterility. I shall be happily disappointed if my plan for utilizing it is not regarded by many farmers as visionary and impracticable. The feasibility of reclaiming the barren sands of Connecticut, even the wastes of Wallingford and North Haven, is proved by many facts. While agent of the Massachusetts State Board of Education I visited every town of that State, and found thousands of acres in Plymouth and Barnstable counties—once sandy plains—covered with fine forests. The common pitch pine has there been most generally used for the reclamation of sand barrens. Recently the Scotch pine has been widely planted. The seeds were sometimes sowed broadcast, and sometimes dropped in furrows. The cost was trifling, and the profit has been satisfactory.
Hummel attributes the desolation of the Karst, the high plateau lying north of Trieste—until recently one of the most parched and barren districts in Europe—to the felling of its woods, centuries ago, to build the navies of Venice. The Austrian government is now making energetic, and thus far successful efforts for the reclamation of this desolate waste, having planted over half a million of young trees, and sown great quantities of seed. In the vicinity of Antwerp less than fifty years ago was a vast desolate plain. Looking to-day in the same direction from the spire of the cathedral, one can see nothing but a forest, whose limits seem lost in the horizon. Forest plantations have transformed those barren lands into fertile fields. French writers point with pride to an experiment begun eighty years ago on the very crest of a peninsula in Dauphiny, where stands a long stretch of fine forest, and where it had been confidently affirmed trees could not be made to grow.
On the Adriatic, Baltic, Mediterranean, Biscayan, and other coasts, the disastrous encroachments of the sea have been checked by forest plantations. Extensive plains, once barren sands south of Berlin, about Odessa and north of the Black Sea and vast steppes in Russia, are now well wooded. R. Douglass & Sons of Waukegan, Illinois, who have been the pioneers in promoting economic tree planting in the West, began four years ago the experiment of reclaiming barren sand ridges near the shore of Lake Michigan, trying pitch pine, white pine, Austrian pine, and Scotch pine. Here, as on Cape Cod, the Scotch pine proved the best for reclaiming sandy barrens. With these facts from abroad and at home it cannot be denied that even the poorest soils in Connecticut may be reclaimed. The Pinus maritima, which proved best for the sandy soils in France, is not adapted to the climate of New England. It has been amply tried, and though growing rapidly for a season or two, is likely to winter-kill. But our native pitch pine, and still better the Scotch pine, are specially adapted to sandy barrens.
Daniel Webster planted many pines at Marshfield, and induced farmers in Plymouth and Barnstable counties to try the same experiment. This has been done very extensively by Mr. J. S. Fay, in Falmouth, near Wood's Hole. In visiting Falmouth I was happily impressed with the beauty and remarkable growth of his tree plantations. There, is a tract of over one hundred and twenty-five acres now densely covered with fine trees. When purchased by him, Mr. Fay says, "It was a barren waste, the soil dry and worn out. On a hundred acres there was not a tree of any kind, unless an oak sprang out from the huckleberry bushes here and there, but hardly lifting its head above them. Indeed, when I bought my place in 1853, except a few stunted cedars on Parker's Point and in the swamps, there was not an evergreen tree within three miles of my house, and hardly any tree of any kind in sight of it. It was maintained that trees could not be made to grow there. The seeds sown were of the native pitch pine with some white pine, the Austrian, Scotch, and Corsican pine, the Norway spruce, and the European larch—in all about thirty-five thousand imported plants, and many thousand native pines. As to the kinds which have done the best, the Scotch pine from the seed, including prompt germination, has proved the best grower, and very hardy. The Norway spruce and English oak have done well. The larch did not start well from the seed, but from the nursery or as imported it has grown remarkably. The hardy Scotch pine does finely either from the seed or the nursery. All these imported trees have done better than the native pitch pine. The larches are about forty feet high, and fourteen inches in diameter one foot from the ground. Some Scotch pines from seed sown in 1861, well situated and in good soil, are thirty feet high, and ten inches through, a foot from the ground. As to profits, one thing is sure. The land, originally poor, has been enriched by the deposit of thousands of loads of leaves upon it, and by the shade afforded, while the soil has been lightened and lifted by the permeation of the roots of the trees; and though no present profit has been yet realized, (which already might have been by sales of the wood,) it should be considered as an investment for future results. Considering the position of my place, on a coast exposed to violent sea winds permeated with salt spray, the vigorous growth and promising appearance of my forest plantations are very encouraging to those more favorably placed. Not only may the destruction of our forests be partially remedied at a cheap cost, but the waste and sterility of our land by long cultivating be replaced with fertility by the simple process of nature."