This section is from the book "Economic Tree Planting", by Birdsey Grant Northrop. Also available from Amazon: Economic Tree-planting.
These hills, which were clothed with a dense forest, have been stripped of trees, and what was never heard of before, the stream itself has been entirely dry. Within the last ten years a new growth of wood has sprung up on the land formerly occupied by the old forest, and now the water runs through the year. Dr. Piper—trees Of America.
The cause of this remarkable phenomena lies in the extensive clearing away of the forests, especially in the mountains, where deluges of rain occur more frequently ; for, in lands devoid of trees, the rain water sinks less into the soil, but more speedily reaches the brooks, streams, and rivers, and fills and overflows these water-courses, and results in disastrous floods. The correctness of this conclusion is sadly attested by the now frequently recurring inundations in Italy, in the south of France, Hungary, Bohemia, and in many other lands. It may be worthy of inquiry whether the general clearing of the mountain forests around Salisbury, Connecticut, to meet the growing demand for charcoal for the furnaces, had any connection with the desolating flood which occurred in that town four years ago. A resident of Salisbury, whose farm lies near the base of the mountain skirting that town, says that a stream on his land, formerly never failing, has dried up every summer for the last twenty years.
By several learned societies—like the Royal Academy of Science of Vienna, and the Imperial Academy of Science of St. Petersburg—commissioners were appointed to report upon the paper of Wex, and their reports substantially confirm his views, and say : "Forests exercise a beneficial influence which can hardly be estimated too highly in an increased humidity of the air, a reduction of the extremes of temperature, a diminution of evaporation, and a more regular distribution of the rainfall, while the injurious effects of their destruction is seen in an alternation of periods of drought at one time with wasting floods at another." The forests serve as storehouses of moisture, both from their leafy canopy which shuts out the sun, and the myriads, or rather millions, of leaves covering the soil and acting like a sponge, soaking up and retaining the rain and regulating its distribution, while the roots act as vertical drains, favoring infiltration and promoting the descent of the water into the lower strata of the earth, there to nourish the springs.
Among the works of Dr. J. C. Brown on Forestry—the most voluminous writer on this subject in the English language—is one on " Reboisement in France," or the replanting of the Alps, the Cevennes, and the Pyrenees, to arrest and prevent the destructive consequences of torrents. He clearly shows from official documents what fearful inundations resulted from the over-clearing of forests, and describes the remedial measures now in progress, which are to extend through many years and to cost over twelve millions of francs. But the loss of property by the terrible inundations in the south of France in 1875 was estimated by the government at seventy-five millions of francs, besides the loss of over three thousand lives. This was the work of a single year. The sad lessons of other torrents and other years have now at length led to systematic efforts to re-clothe their mountains.
The benefits that may accrue to our country from the discussion of tree-planting, were strikingly exhibited two hundred and fourteen years ago, when Sir John Evelyn published his celebrated work, entitled, " Sylva; or, a Discourse on Forest Trees and the Propagation of Timber." It was at once received with great public favor, and honored with royal commendation. He had remarkable success in awakening general interest in sylviculture. It was written while he was employed in an entirely different branch of public service, but, as he says, "from an earnest desire to support the credit of the Royal Society, and to convince the world that philosophy was not barely an amusement, fit only to employ the time of melancholy and speculative people, but a high and useful science, worthy the attention of men of the greatest parts, and capable of contributing in a supreme degree to the welfare of the nation." He was one of the founders of the Royal Society, and wrote this book at its special request, and that society has originated few books in the last two hundred years more useful than this which still survives in its grand results, although his other works on painting, sculpture, architecture, and medals have long since been forgotten. In many ways England has recognized her great obligations to the man who worked so lovingly and effectively for the good of his countrymen.
Disraeli, in his " Curiosities of Literature," fittingly says: "Had Evelyn only composed the great work of his Sylva, his name would have excited the gratitude of posterity. The voice of the patriot exults in the dedication to Charles II, prefixed to one of the later editions, in which he says: ' I need not acquaint your Majesty how many millions of timber trees, besides infinite others, have been planted throughout your vast dominions at the instigation of this work, because your Majesty has been pleased to own it publicly for my encouragement.' Surely, while Britain retains her situation among the nations of Europe, the Sylva of Evelyn will endure with her triumphant oaks. It was a retired philosopher who aroused the genius of the nation, and who, casting a prophetic eye towards the age in which we live, contributed to secure our sovereignty of the seas. The present navy of Great Britain has been constructed with the oaks which the genius of John Evelyn planted."
What trees shall we plant in Connecticut? One of the most valuable of our native trees is the white ash, and, all things considered, it is one of the most profitable for planting. Combining lightness, strength, toughness, elasticity, and beauty of grain in a rare degree, it is in great and growing demand for farming tools, furniture, interior finishing of houses and railroad cars, the construction of carriages, for oars and pulley-blocks, and many other purposes. The excellence of our ash is one secret of the preference given abroad to American agricultural implements. It is hardy, will bear the bleakest exposure, is a rapid grower, and attains large size, but will not thrive on poor lands. It is every way superior to the European ash, much as that has been cultivated and lauded abroad. It is now found widely in the nurseries and young plantations attached to the forest schools of Europe. Director-General Adolfo Di Beranger, President of the Royal Instituto Forestale at Vallombrosa, pointed me to his plantations of Fraxinus Americana with a tone which implied that is the tree of which Americans may well be proud.