Effect of Forest Destruction upon a Country.—Effects Produced in Europe and Asia.—The Ancient Habitableness of those Regions Contrasted with Modern Barrenness and Unproductiveness.—Forests as an Essential to Industry and Comfort.—Dependence of Mankind on Wood.—A Consideration for Future Wants.—Telling Results of the Wilful Waste of the Atlantic States Forests.—Manner of Meeting the Question of Wholesale Destruction.—System of Forest Management in France and Germany.—The Unprotected State of American Forests generally.—The Forest Regions of the Northwest, and a Suggestion for their Preservation.
I have tried for years, in the best way I knew how, to get something definite done to save our forests and replant those destroyed, but the work has been very discouraging.
The waste of timber still goes steadily on, especially in the "Western States, and is each year increasing as the forests diminish. Forests are felled, and a man cuts down a tree that his own lifetime and that of all his children added together could not reproduce, yet he thinks no more of his act of vandalism than he would if he were removing a stone, a brier, or a dirt-pile. He does not cut it down because he needs the fuel or wants the lumber, but because it is handy, or because he fancies it shades the ground too much, or he wants to get a bird's nest that is on it, a few nuts a squirrel has hid away in it, a coon off it, or some chestnuts. Any excuse in the world serves as sufficient cause to justify his act of vandalism, and the axe is laid without mercy to the root of the tree. If these individual acts of vandalism were all we had to contend with we might rest easy; but every year great companies with ponderous mills go to the heart of our forests and fell thousands of trees that have been hundreds of years growing. One firm alone in a western state runs two hundred saws. No less than 1,030,000,000 feet of lumber were cut in a single year in the State of Wisconsin. At the present rate ten, or at most twenty, years will see the end, and the forests of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin will have been destroyed. Fifty thousand acres of Wisconsin timber are annually swept away to supply the Kansas and Nebraska markets alone. New York has lost her maple, walnut, hickory, and has no big woods left worthy the name of forest, unless it is her Adirondacks. How long she will keep it is a question. In Pennsylvania the forests, except small portions of the Alleghanies, have been destroyed. All the remaining regions have been bought up by speculators, and the trees are merely held for a higher market. The fires and the saw-mills will soon do the work, and America become a treeless region.
What difference will it make? ask the careless. A great deal, for with the destruction of timber goes away much of the usefulness of the country. Did you ever see a treeless land, or have you ever read about one ? If not, ask travellers, or read carefully the histories of the Eoman Empire, Syria, Persia, Asia Minor, and portions of Italy. All these regions were once timbered countries and richly productive. Now they are horrible deserts, seamed with ravines and gullies, piled with ridges of sand, utterly incapable of reproducing the wood which once covered them. Behold the naked rocks and barren wastes of Mount Lebanon made famous by the life of our Saviour. From these mountains once came the timber to supply the surrounding countries; it has long since disappeared, and with it the population. Other causes no doubt assisted to desolate these countries, but, says Marsh: " the destruction of the forests was the chief cause of the present barrenness." I doubt if man can exist in any country entirely destitute of timber, f As countries entirely covered with timber are fit only for the abode of savages, so countries entirely denuded of timber become fit only for wild beasts and uncivilized, people. | Nature seems to have designed that there should T>e a happy medium in this respect which we cannot disregard without bringing upon ourselves evil consequences. Either extreme produces a like effect—the total destruction of forests unfits a country for the abode of civilized man, while the clothing of it in impenetrable forests does the same. Look at the country around the Mediterranean Sea, once the most populous in the world. Compare the descriptions of ancient writers with what is said of it to-day. Marsh says: " The vast forests have disappeared from the mountain spurs and ridges; the vegetable earth accumulated beneath the trees by the decay of leaves and fallen trunks; the soil of the Alpine pastures which skirted and indented the woods, and the mould of the uplands are washed away; the meadows once f ertilized by irrigation are waste and unproductive, because the cisterns and reservoirs that supplied the ancient canals are broken, or the springs that fed them dried up; rivers famous in history and song have shrunk to humble brooklets; the willows that ornamented and protected the banks of the lesser watercourses are gone, and the rivulets have ceased to exist as perennial currents, because the little water that finds its way into their old channels is evaporated by droughts of summer, or absorbed by parched earth before it reaches the lowlands; the beds of the brooks have widened into broad expanses of sand and gravel, over which, though, in the hot season we passed dry-shod; in winter sealike torrents thunder; the entrances of navigable streams are obstructed by sand-bars; and harbors once marts of an extensive commerce are shoaled by deposits of the rivers at whose mouths they he."
If we admit that trees are an essential to civilization, we may as well at once say man cannot advance in improvement beyond the rudest form of pastoral life without the use of timber. Even in this age of iron, steel, and coal, we can hardly estimate our dependence upon wood. The pen we write with is held by a wooden handle; the chair we sit upon is made of wood, the floor beneath our feet is of wood, and the building in which we live (except possibly the walls) is of wood. This material enters into every want of our lives, and contributes daily and hourly to our convenience. The question naturally arises, Will our countrymen go on destroying an article of such absolute necessity, without some regard to the source of a future supply ? As for others I know not, but as for myself I say no; we will stop this wanton destruction of the beautiful trees at once, and so use them as to leave a portion for our children when we are gone.
In some of the older states the want of timber is already severely felt. Hills and mountains once covered with beautiful forests are bald and unsightly. The streams that once turned the mills to denude these forests have dried up, or shrunk away to inconsiderable rivulets. It cannot be otherwise, with our rapidly increasing millions, than that the demand for timber will increase, and the destruction go on rather than diminish. I see no way but to meet this question with sturdy laws. In Germany, France, and some other countries of Europe the forests are the property of the government. Their management has been reduced to a system, and they are guarded with the greatest care from wanton destruction. In our own country I doubt if a like system would work well. The government of the United States has never yet protected its forests, and I doubt if it ever will. Perhaps the better plan would be to turn over the whole question of forestry to the several states and territories of the Union. Timber growing on pub-he lands is everywhere so generally considered as fair game that possibly, the government cannot protect it. It did not, or could not, protect the live-oak woods of Florida intended for the use of the navy; it did not protect its forests in Michigan, Wisconsin, or Minnesota, and it is not to-day protecting its woods in Montana or Washington Territories. The Congress either does not wish to be bothered with the subject of forestry or does not care about it. If it does not then desire to undertake it, will it not give it up and let the states and territories try their hand at forest - saving ? We have one great belt of timber (the last in the United States) still unde-stroyed. This magnificent body lies in the Territories of Montana and Washington, and the State of Oregon. It would be a pity to wantonly destroy it, and I believe the people of the West and their legislatures would protect it if it was transferred to them. At all events, is not the experiment worth trying in Washington Territory, at least, where the great red-fir forests exist. I make the suggestion for what it is worth, not knowing if it would work well or not. Certain it is, the old system will not do, and, if continued, the destruction of timber will go on increasing with the lapse of years, until the whole country is depleted of its woodlands, and vast sections rendered hopelessly barren and sterile.