Wood For The Nation
( Originally Published 1922 )
Westward the course of forest discovery and depletion has taken its way in the United States. The pine and hardwood forests of the Atlantic and New England States first fell before the bite of the woodman's ax and the sweep of his saw. Wasteful lumbering finally sapped the resources of these productive timberlands. Shift was then made farther westward to the Lake States. Their vast stretches of white pine and native hardwoods were cut to a skeleton of their original size. The lumbering operations then spread to the southern pine belt. In a few years the supplies of market-able lumber in that region were considerably reduced. Then the westward trail was resumed. The strip of country between the Mississippi River and the Cascade, Sierra Nevada and Coast Ranges was combed and cut. Today, the last big drive against our timber assets is being waged in the forests of the Pacific Coast.
Our virgin forests originally covered 822,000,-000 acres. Today, only one-sixth of them are left.
All the forest land now in the United States including culled, burned and cut-over tracts, totals 463,000,000 acres. We now have more waste and cut-over lands in this country than the combined forest area of Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, France, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal. The merchantable timber left in the United States is estimated at 2,215,000,000,000 board feet. The rest is second-growth trees of poor quality. One-half of this timber is in California, Washing-ton and Oregon. It is a long and costly haul from these Pacific Coast forests to the eastern markets. Less than one-fifth of our remaining timber is hardwood. 56,000,000,000 board feet of material of saw timber size are used or destroyed in the United States each year. Altogether, we use more than 26,000,000,000 cubic feet of timber of all classes annually. Our forests are making annual growth at the rate of less than one-fourth of this total consumption. We are rapidly cutting away the last of our virgin forests. We also are cutting small-sized and thrifty trees much more rapidly than we can replace them.
The United States is short on timber today because our fathers and forefathers abused our forests. If they had planted trees on the lands after the virgin timber was removed, we should now be one of the richest countries in the world in forest resources. Instead, they left barren stretches and desolate wastes where dense woods once stood. It is time that the present owners of the land begin the reclamation of our 326,-000,000 acres of cut over timberlands. Some of these lands still are yielding fair crops of timber due to natural restocking and proper care. Most of them are indifferent producers. One-quarter of all this land is bare of forest growth. It is our duty as citizens of the United States to aid as we may in the reforestation of this area.
Fires are cutting down the size of our forests each year. During a recent five-year period, 160,000 forest fires burned over 56,488,000 acres, an area as large as the state of Utah, and destroyed or damaged timber and property valued at $85,715,000. Year by year, fires and bad timber practices have been increasing our total areas of waste and cut-over land. We are facing a future lumber famine, not alone because we have used up our timber, but also because we have failed to make use of our vast acreage of idle land adapted for growing forests. We must call a halt and begin all over again. Our new start must be along the lines of timber planting and tree increase. The landowners, the States and the Federal Government must all get together in this big drive for reforestation.
It is impossible to make National Forests out of all the idle forest land. On the other hand, the matter of reforestation cannot be left to private owners. Some of them would set out trees and restore the forests as desired. Others would not. The public has large interests at stake. It must bear part of the burden. Proper protection of the forests against fire can come only through united public action. Everyone must do his part to reduce the fire danger. The public must also bring about needed changes in many of our tax methods so that private owners will be encouraged to go into the business of raising timber. The Government must do its share, the private landowner must help to the utmost and the public must aid in every possible way, including payment of higher prices for lumber as the cost of growing timber increases.
France and Scandinavia have solved their forest problems along about the same lines the United States will have to follow. These countries keep up well-protected public forests. All the landowners are taught how to set out and raise trees. Everyone has learned to respect the timberlands. The woods are thought of as treasures which must be carefully handled. The average man would no more think of abusing the trees in the forest than he would of setting fire to his home. The foreign countries are now busy working out their forestry problems of the years to come. We in America are letting the future take care of itself.
Our States should aid generally in the work of preventing forest fires. They should pass laws which will require more careful handling of private forest lands. They should pass more favorable timber tax laws so that tree growing will be encouraged. Uncle Sam should be the director in charge of all this work. He should instruct the states how to protect their forests against fire. He should teach them how to re-new their depleted woodlands. He should work for a gradual and regular expansion of the National Forests. The United States Forest Service should have the power to help the various states in matters of fire protection, ways of cutting forests, methods of renewing forests and of deciding whether idle lands were better adapted for farming or forestry purposes.
Experts believe that the Government should spend at least $2,000,000 a year in the purchase of new National Forests. About one-fifth of all our forests are now publicly owned. One of the best ways of preventing the concentration of timber in private ownership is to increase the area of publicly owned forests. Such actions would prevent the waste of valuable timber and would aid planting work. For best results, it is thought that the Federal Government should own about one-half of all the forests in the country. To protect the watersheds of navigable streams the Government should buy 1,000,000 acres of wood-lands in New England and 5,000,000 acres in the southern Appalachian Mountains. The National Forests should also be extended and consolidated.
Federal funds should be increased so that the Forest Service can undertake on a large scale the replanting of burned-over lands in the National Forests. As soon as this work is well under way, Congress should supply about $1,000,000 annually for such work. Many watersheds in the National Forests are bare of cover due to forest fires. As a result, the water of these streams is not sufficient for the needs of irrigation, water power and city water supply of the surrounding regions.
Right now, even our leading foresters do not know exactly what the forest resources of the country amount to. It will take several years to make such a survey even after the necessary funds are provided. We need to know just how much wood of each class and type is available. We want to know, in each case, the present and possible output. We want to find out the timber requirements of each state and of every important wood-using industry. Exact figures are needed on the timber stands and their growth. The experimental work of the Forest Service should be extended. Practically every forest is different from every other forest. It is necessary to work out locally the problems of each timber reservation. Most urgent of all is the demand for a law to allow Federal officers to render greater assistance to the state forestry departments in fighting forest fires.
Many state laws designed to perpetuate our forests must be passed if our remaining timber resources are to be saved. During times when fires threaten, all the forest lands in each state should be guarded by organized agencies. This protection should include cut-over and unimproved land as well as timber tracts. Such a plan would require that the State and Federal governments bear about one-half the expenses while the private forest owners should stand the balance. There would be special rules regulating the disposal of slashings, methods of cutting timber, and of extracting forest products such as pulpwood or naval stores.
If our forests are to be saved for the future we must begin conservation at once. To a small degree, luck plays a part in maintaining the size of the forest. Some woodlands in the South Atlantic States are now producing their third cut of saw logs. Despite forest fires and other destructive agencies, these forests have continued to produce. Some of the northern timberlands have grown crops of saw timber and wood pulp for from one hundred fifty to two hundred fifty years. Expert foresters report that private owners are each year increasing their plantings on denuded woodlands. New England land owners are planting between 12,000,000 and 15,000,000 young forest trees a year. The Middle Atlantic and Central States are doing about as well. To save our forests, planting of this sort must be universal. It takes from fifty to one hundred years to grow a crop of merchantable timber. What the United States needs is a national forestry policy which will induce every landowner to plant and grow more trees on land that is not useful for farm crops. Our forestry problem is to put to work millions of acres of idle land. As one eminent forester recently remarked, "If we are to remain a nation of timber users, we must become a nation of wood growers."