This section is from the book "A Few Suggestions On Tree Planting", by C. S. Sargent.
‡ A Collection of Papers on Political, Literary, and Moral Subjects. New York. 1843.
Such changes of climate are everywhere noticed in countries from which the forests have been extensively removed; and if they are not more apparent in Massachusetts, it is owing to its propinquity to the ocean, which exerts an important, and, of course, perpetual control over the temperature of all regions within its influence, preventing the excessive and sudden changes which often mark an inland climate. But even here there are certain changed conditions which can only find a solution in climatic deterioration traceable to the destruction of the forests.
Twenty years ago peaches were a profitable crop; now we must depend on New Jersey and Delaware for our supply; and our apples and other orchard fruits now come from beyond the limits of New England. The failure of these and other crops in the older States is generally ascribed to exhaustion of the soil; but with greater reason it can be referred to the destruction of the forests which sheltered us from the cold winds of the north and west, and which, keeping the soil under their shade cool in summer and warm in winter, acted at once as material barriers and reservoirs of moisture. It is not necessary to go beyond the limits of the United States for examples of the climatic changes which follow the destruction of the forests. Mr. Chamberlain, in the memorial to which I have already referred, says, " A decline in fruit products in Maine has been apparent for a considerable time; other farm crops are seemingly in a decline also. Potatoes, oats, and wheat now rarely give such crops as they did thirty or forty years ago. Fruit-trees take on disease, apples become scabbed and distorted; pears knotty, cracked, and extremely perverse; plum and cherry trees forget former habits and old friendships; blight and rust and insect-destroyers are everywhere. The farmer's crops are invaded from all sides. The cry of local exhaustion of the elements of the soil, negligent culture, and a long chapter of local complaints, fail to account for any portion of the difficulty." According to Lapham, the winter in the State of Michigan has greatly increased in severity during the last twenty years, and this severity seems to keep pace with the cut-ting-off of the forests. " Thirty years ago," he says, " the peach was one of the most abundant fruits of that State; at that lime frost injurious to corn, at any time from May to October, was a thing unknown. Now the peach is an uncertain crop, and frost often injures the corn." It has been estimated that the same State has lost, (hiring four years, $20,000,000 from the failure of the winter wheat, a crop which, in the early history of the State, was never injured.
Forests, by preventing the escape of moisture by rapid superficial flow and evaporation, ensure, it is now generally acknowledged, the permanence of springs, which, in their turn, supply the rivulets from which the great water-courses draw their supply. The water falling on a tract of land stripped of its covering of woods is rapidly evaporated by the summer sun, or in winter rushes off over the surface of the frozen ground to the nearest water-course, converting this for the time being into a roaring torrent. In a country properly wooded the result would be exactly opposite. The summer rain, falling on the ground, protected by the forest from evaporation, is held as in a sponge, slowly but surely finding its way to the water-courses, while the melting snows and winter rains gradually soak into the soil, which in the forests is never so deeply frozen as in the open ground. This is no mere theory, but a fact of which the proof is, alas! too easily found, and too convincing. It is a subject of common remark in the country, that brooks which formerly ran throughout the year arc now dry, save after the autumn rains or the melting of the snows in spring, when they become raging torrents, carrying off to the sea in a few days the water which formerly supplied them with a moderate but constant flow throughout the summer. Unfor-lunately, no observations of the flow of the great rivers in the United States have been made, covering a period of time of sufficient length to enable us to draw any conclusions in regard to it. But in Europe this subject has received more careful investigation. Herr Wex,at the recent yearly meeting of the Geographical Society of Vienna, demonstrated that the average level of the liver Elbe had fallen seventeen inches; that of the Rhine, over twenty-four inches; that of the Vistula, twenty-six inches; and that of the Danube, at Orsova, as much as fifty-five inches during the past fitly years. Accompanying this fall in level, there was also shown to be a constantly increasing diminution of the discharge from springs. Instances, though of less general importance, are not wanting near home. "There* is a good illustration of the effects of the destruction and reproduction of forests in drying up and restoring ponds in my immediate neighborhood. Within about one half mile of my residence there is a pond upon which mills have been standing for a long time, dating back I believe, to the first settlement of the town. These have been kept in constant operation until within about twenty or thirty years, when the supply of water began to fail. The pond owes its existence to a stream which has its source in the hills which stretch some miles to the south. Within the time mentioned these hills, which were clothed with a dense forest, have been almost entirely stripped of trees; and to the wonder and loss of the mill-owners, the water in the pond has failed, except in the season of freshets, 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 most of* the land formerly occupied by the old forest; ana now the water runs through the year, notwithstanding the great droughts of the last few years, going back from 1856".