This section is from the book "A Few Suggestions On Tree Planting", by C. S. Sargent.
By the census of 1870, of the 4,992,000 acres which constitute the State of Massachusetts, only 766,714 were reported as woodlands, or nearly 550,000 acres less than the proper amount. A comparison of Mr. Bige-low's Report on the Industry of Massachusetts for 1837 with the United States census of 1870, shows a decrease in the amount of Massachusetts woodlands of some 23,000 acres. The methods used, however, in preparing the statistics of these two reports were so widely different, that I am inclined to doubt the value of such a comparison, and to coincide with the opinion of many intelligent observers, that the Massachusetts woodlands are at least holding their own in extent; and if we consider the very encouraging attention which has been been, for some years, paid to tree-planting for ornamental purposes, it must be conceded, I think, that there is now as large a proportion of Massachusetts covered with arborial growth as at any time during the past fifty years.
As compared with most of the other States of the Union, this condition of things would be extremely gratifying were it due to a desire on the part of our people to maintain a proper proportion of forest within the limits of the State, and not to the forced abandonment of much improved land; the result in no small measure of the folly of those who stripped the land of its protection, and subjected their descendants to the evils I have tried to point out.
Granting that the area covered with forest growth in Massachusetts has not diminished during the last fifty years, we are still short, by over half a million acres, of the amount supposed essential to maintain proper physical conditions; while, if we examine the actual state of the woodlands, it will be found that they are very far from being able to supply sufficient forest products for the requirements of the inhabitants of the State.
The abandoned lands have generally grown up with trees, comparatively worthless for employment in the arts, and which only supply, after years of struggling growth, an inferior fuel.
The most valuable trees have always been cut, often before they reached maturity, and as no steps have been taken to replace them, it is not astonishing that the poverty of our woodlands has reached a point which compels the inhabitants of the State to draw nearly their whole supply of lumber from portions of the country more recently settled. This is attended with so much expense and inconvenience that many valuable industries have already moved from Massachusetts, and it is not improbable that at no distant day many others depending on the forests for their existence will be compelled to do likewise. By the census of 1870, there were in Massachusetts, besides the woodlands, nearly two million (1,988,164) acres of unimproved land. Of these, at least 1,200,000 are admirably suited for forest growth, and, if planted with trees adapted to the various soils and situations, they would produce at the end of fifty years a crop, the actual value of which in dollars can only be reckoned by hundreds of millions.
It is impossible to estimate the indirect profit of such plantations in improved climate and water-power; but that it would equal or excel the actual value of the timber produced seems not improbable, while the benefits arising from so large an additional area of forest would be felt far beyond the limits of the State. There are in Massachusetts, according to the last returns, 26,500 farms (a falling off of 7,500 since 1850), which average one hundred and three acres in extent. There is not a farm of this size in the State which could not be rendered more valuable if a strip of land, equal to at least one tenth of its whole area and on its northern boundary, was devoted to a belt of trees, which would serve to protect the remainder from the cold winds of winter, and render its cultivation more profitable and its occupation more agreeable. Such timber-belts would, in the aggregate, give the State 340,000 additional acres covered with trees.
It is true that if the existing woodlands were increased to the extent I suggest, their area would cover not twenty-five, but nearly fifty per cent of the whole State. But it must be remembered that the poverty of the soil and the severity of the climate preclude profitable agriculture from a large portion of Massachusetts, and that the waste lands at least can only be made profitable through sylviculture.
Any fears that the production of such plantations will be greater than the demand, are groundless, as Massachusetts, from her geographical position, can always secure a market for any excess of lumber she can produce beyond the wants of her inhabitants. There is no soil within the State too poor or too exposed, it must be remembered also, to resist the fertilizing effects of fifty years of forest covering; and the fact that properly managed forests, especially when formed of certain trees, have so great an influence in enriching the soil beneath them, should always enter largely into any consideration of the expediency of forest culture.
But few experiments in arboriculture, except on the most limited scale, have been attempted in Massachusetts, but I will briefly describe the two most important, which are of special interest as showing what our unimproved lands are capable of, if judiciously managed. Mr. Richard S. Fay commenced, in 1816, planting on his estate near Lynn, in Essex County and in that and the two succeeding years, planted two hundred thousand imported trees, to which were afterwards added nearly as many more raised directly from the seed, nearly two hundred acres being covered in all. The sites of these plantations were stony hillsides, fully exposed to the wind, destitute of loam, their only covering a few struggling barberry bushes and junipers, with an abundant undergrowth of woad-wax (Genista tinctoria, L.), always a certain indication in Essex County of sterile soil, He employed in his plantations, oaks, ashes, maples, the Norway spruce, Scotch and Austrian pines; but the principal tree planted was the European larch. No labor was expended on the land previous to planting, the trees, about one foot high, being simply inserted with a spade, and no protection has at any time been given them, save against fire and browsing animals. I recently visited these plantations, twenty-nine years after their formation, and took occasion to measure several of the trees, but more especially the larches. Some of these are now over fifty feet in height, and fifteen inches in diameter three feet from the ground, and the average of many trees examined is over forty feet in height and twelve inches in diameter. The broad-leaved trees have also made a most satisfactory growth, and many of them, on the margins of the plantations, are fully forty feet high. During the past ten years, about seven hundred cords of firewood have been cut from these plantations, besides all the fencing required for a large estate. Firewood, fence-posts, and railroad sleepers, to the value of thousands of dollars, could be cut to-day, to the great advantage of the remaining trees. The profit of such an operation is apparent, especially when we consider that the land used for these plantations did not cost more than ten dollars an acre, and probably not half that amount.
The second experiment was made by Mr. J. S. Fay, a brother of Mr. Fay of Essex County, on his estate at Wood's Holl, in Barnstable County, on the extreme soulhwestern point of Cape Cod. A tract of land, one hundred and twenty-live acres in extent, which is now densely covered with Mr. Fay's plantations, was, in 1853, seemingly as little fitted for the purpose of tree-culture as can well be imagined. It was fully exposed to the cold northwest winds of winter sweeping down across Buzzard's Bay, and to the no less baneful southwest winds of summer, which come from the Atlantic loaded with saline moisture.
In answer to an inquiry as to the nature of the soil on which his plantations are made, Mr. Fay writes me: My land is made up mainly of abrupt hills and deep hollows, sprinkled over with bowlders of granite. The soil is dry and worn out, and what there is of it, is a gravelly loam. The larger part consisted of old pastures, and on the one hundred and twenty-five acres not a tree of any kind, unless an oak, that sprang out of the huckleberry bushes here and there, barely lifting its head above them for the wind, and when attempting to grow, browsed down by the cattle ranging in winter, could be called a tree".
Thirty-five thousand trees were imported and set out, besides a large number of native trees procured in this country; but fully three fourths of the whole plantation was made by sowing the seed directly on the ground where the trees were to stand. A large variety of trees, both native and foreign, were employed, and while few have failed entirely, the foreign species, as was to be expected from the situation, have been the most successful. The Scotch pine has made the most rapid growth, and then the European larch.
The Corsican Pine (Pinus Laricio, Poir), although not planted as early as the others, promises to be a valuable and fast-growing tree for planting under such circumstances.