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Progress In State Forestry

( Originally Published 1922 )

The rapid depletion and threatened exhaustion of the timber supply in the more thickly populated sections of the East has prompted several of the states to initiate action looking toward the conservation of their timber resources. As far back as 1880, a forestry commission was appointed in New Hampshire to formulate a forest policy for the State. Vermont took similar action two years later, followed within the next few years by many of the northeastern and lake states.

These commissions were mainly boards of inquiry, for the purpose of gathering reliable information upon which to report, with recommendations, for the adoption of a state forest policy. As a result of the inquiries, forestry departments were established in a number of states. The report of the New York Commission of 1884 resulted in forest legislation, in 1885, creating a forestry department and providing for the acquisition of state forests. Liberal appropriations were made from time to time for this purpose, until now the state forests embrace nearly 2,000,000 acres, the largest of any single state.

New York state forests were created, especially, for the protection of the Adirondack and Catskill regions as great camping and hunting grounds, and not for timber production. The people of the state were so fearful that through political manipulation this vast forest resource might fall into the hands of the timber exploiters, that a constitutional amendment was proposed and adopted, absolutely prohibiting the cutting of green timber from the state lands. Thus, while New York owns large areas of state forest land, it is unproductive so far as furnishing timber supplies to the state is concerned. It is held distinctly for the recreation it affords to campers and hunters, and contains many famous summer resorts.

State forestry in Pennsylvania began in 1887, when a commision was appointed to study conditions, resulting in the establishment of a Commission of Forestry in 1895. Two years later, an act was passed providing for the purchase of state forests. At the present time, Pennsylvania has 1,250,000 acres of state forest land. Unlike those of New York, Pennsylvania forests were acquired and are managed primarily for timber production, although the recreational uses are not overlooked.

The large areas of state-owned lands in the Lake States suitable, mainly, for timber growing, enabled this section to create extensive state forests without the necessity of purchase as was the case in New York and Pennsylvania. As a result, Wisconsin has nearly 400,000 acres of state forest land, Minnesota, about 330,000, and Michigan, about 200,000 acres. South Dakota, with a relatively small area of forest land, has set aside 80,000 acres for state forest. A number of other states have initiated a policy of acquiring state forest lands, notably, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, and Indiana, each with small areas, but likely to be greatly increased within the next few years under the development of present policies. Other states are falling in line with this forward movement. There are but 4,237,587 acres in state forests in the United States. This is only 1 percent. of the cut-over and denuded land in the country which is useful only for tree production. The lack of funds prevents many states from embarking more extensively in this work. Many states set aside only a few thousand a year ; others, that are more progressive and realize the need of forestry extension, spend annually from one hundred thousand to five hundred thousand dollars. Foresters are, generally, agreed that as much as 25 per cent. of the forest land of every state should be publicly owned for producing large sized timber, requiring seventy-five to one hundred years to grow, and which the private owner would not be interested in producing. National, state, or communal forests must supply it. All of these combined comprise a very small part of the forests of most of the states, so that much larger areas must be acquired by the states and the national government to safeguard our future timber supplies.

Not less than thirty-two states are actually engaged in state forestry work. Many of them have well-organized forestry departments, which, in states like New York and Pennsylvania, having large areas of state forests, are devoted largely to the care and protection of these lands. In other states having no state forests, the work is largely educational in character.

The most notable progress in forestry has been made in fire protection. All states having forestry departments lay especial emphasis upon forest protection, since it is recognized that only by protecting the forests from fire is it possible to succeed in growing timber crops. In fact, in most cases, the prevention of fire in itself is sufficient to insure regrowth and productive forests. Pennsylvania is spending $500,000 annually in protecting her forests from fire. The cooperation of the Federal Government, under a provision of the Weeks Law which appropriates small sums of money for forest protection, provided the state will appropriate an equal or greater amount, has done much to encourage the establishment of systems of forest protection in many of the states.

The enormous areas of denuded, or waste land in the various states, comprising more than 80,000,000 acres, which can be made again productive only by forest planting, present another big problem in state forestry. Many of the states have established state forestry nurseries for the growing of tree seedlings to plant up these lands. The trees are either given away, or sold at cost, millions being distributed each year, indi eating a live interest and growing sentiment in reforesting waste lands.

The appalling waste of timber resources through excessive and reckless cutting, amounting to forest devastation, is deplorable, but we are helpless to prevent it. Since the bulk of woodlands are privately owned, and there are no effective laws limiting the cutting of timber with a view to conserving the supply, the only means of bringing about regulated cutting on private lands is through cooperation with the owners. This is being done in some of the states in a limited way, through educational methods, involving investigations, reports, demonstrations, and other means of bringing improved forestry practices to the attention of existing owners and enlisting their cooperation and support in forest conservation.

Forestry in the state, or in the nation, seems to progress no more rapidly than the timber disappears; in fact, the individual states do not take precaution to conserve their timber supplies until exhaustion is threatened. The damage has been largely done before the remedy is considered. We are today paying a tremendous toll for our lack of foresight in these matters. As a timber producing state becomes a timber importing state, (a condition existing in most of the eastern and middle states) we begin to pay a heavy toll in the loss of home industries dependent upon wood, and also in heavy freight charges on lumber that we must import from distant points to supply our needs. In many states, the expenditure of an amount for reforestation and fire protection equal to this freight bill on imported lumber would make the state self-supporting in a decade, instead of becoming worse off each year.

Marked progress has been made along the lines indicated, but few of the states have begun to measure up to their full responsibility in protecting their future timber supply.

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