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Growth Of The Forestry Idea

( Originally Published 1922 )

Our forests of the New World were so abundant when the early settlers landed on the Atlantic Coast that it was almost impossible to find enough cleared land in one tract to make a 40-acre farm. These thick, dense timberlands extended westward to the prairie country. It was but natural, therefore, that the forest should be considered by these pioneers as an obstacle and viewed as an enemy. Farms and settlements had to be hewed out of the timberlands, and the forests seemed inexhaustible.

Experts say that the original, virgin forests of the United States covered approximately 822,000,000 acres. They are now shrunk to one-sixth of that area. At one time they were the richest forests in the world. Today there are millions of acres which contain neither timber nor young growth. Considerable can be restored if the essential measures are started on a national scale. Such measures would insure an adequate lumber supply for all time to come.

Rules and regulations concerning the cutting of lumber and the misuse of forests were suggested as early as the seventeenth century. Plymouth Colony in 1626 passed an ordinance prohibiting the cutting of timber from the Colony lands without official consent. This is said to be the first conservation law passed in America. William Penn was one of the early champions of the "Woodman, spare that tree" slogan. He ordered his colonists to leave one acre of forest for every five acres of land that were cleared.

In 1799 Congress set aside $200,000 for the purchase of a small forest reserve to be used as a supply source of ship timbers for the Navy. About twenty five years later, it gave the President the power to call upon the Army and Navy whenever necessary to protect the live oak and red cedar timber so selected in Florida. In 1827, the Government started its first work in forestry. It was an attempt to raise live oak in the South-ern States to provide ship timbers for the Navy. Forty years later, the Wisconsin State Legislature began to investigate the destruction of the forests of that state in order to protect them and prolong their life. Michigan and Maine, in turn, followed suit. These were some of the first steps taken to study our forests and protect them against possible extinction.

The purpose of the Timber Culture Act passed by Congress in 1873 was to increase national interest in reforestation. It provided that every settler who would plant and maintain 40 acres of timber in the treeless sections should be entitled to secure patent for 160 acres of the public domain that vast territory consisting of all the states and territories west of the Mississippi, except Texas, as well as Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. This act, as well as several State laws, failed because the settlers did not know enough about tree planting. The laws also were not effective because they did not prevent dishonest practices.

In 1876, the first special agent in forestry was appointed by the Commissioner of Agriculture to study the annual consumption, exportation and importation of timber and other forest pro-ducts, the probable supply for future wants, and the means best adapted for forest preservation. Five years later, the Division of Forestry was organized as a branch of the Department of Agri-culture. It was established in order to carry on investigations about forestry and how to preserve our trees.

For some nine years the Division of Forestry was nothing more than a department of information. It distributed technical facts and figures about the management of private woodlands and collected data concerning our forest resources. It did not manage any of the Government timberlands because there were no forest reserves at that time. It was not until 1891 that the first forest reserve, the Yellowstone Park Timberland Reserve, was created by special proclamation of President Harrison. Later it became part of the National Park reserves. Although the Division of Forestry had no special powers to oversee and direct the management of the forest reserves, during the next six years a total of 40,000,000 acres of valuable timberland were so designated and set aside. At the request of the Secretary of the Interior, the National Academy of Sciences therefore worked out a basis for laws governing national forests. Congress enacted this law in 1897. Thereafter the Department of the Interior had active charge of the timberlands. At that time little was known scientifically about the American forests. There were no schools of forestry in this country. During the period 1898-1903, several such schools were established.

President McKinley, during his term of office, increased the number of forest reserves from 28 to over 40, covering a total area of 30,000,000 acres. President Roosevelt added many millions of acres to the forest reserves, bringing the net total to more than 150,000,000 acres, including 159 different forests. In 1905, the administration of the forest reserves was transferred from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture, and their name changed to National Forests. No great additions to the government timberlands have been made since that time. Small, valuable areas have been added. Other undesirable tracts have been cut off from the original reserves.

The growth of the Division of Forestry, now the United States Forest Service, has been very remarkable since 1898, when it consisted of only a few scientific workers and clerks. At present it employs more than 2,600 workers, which number is increased during the dangerous fire season to from 4,000 to 5,000 employees. The annual appropriations have been increased from $28,500 to approximately $6,500,000. The annual income from Uncle Sam's woodlands is also on the gain and now amounts to about $5,000,000 yearly. This income results largely from the sale of timber and the grazing of livestock on the National Forests.

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