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THE CONSERVATION OF OUR NATIONAL

RESOURCES

BY JOHN L. MATHEWS

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DURING more than a century our gov- be abandoned, and that its direct conernment has been engaged in the aliena- verse, the utmost conservation of our tion of an enormous domain. On a scale remaining natural resources, public and unequaled in history, and which proba- private, must be adopted. More: it must bly never will be equaled, we have dis- be adhered to rigidly, not only to pretributed land in generous homesteads serve a livable land for our children's to the land-hungry of the world, trans- children, but even to assure a modicum forming a tenant peasantry into a re- of prosperity for our own old age. sponsible electorate. In the pursuit of It is to bring this fact most startlingthis business we have enlarged a simple ly to the general notice that President policy of dispersal until the public do- Roosevelt has called

upon

the governors main has become a public grab-bag; of all the states and territories to meet and pleading for the more rapid and him in conference at the White House profitable “development” of what we during the present month (May), to conchose to call the unlimited resources of sult and confer, not only with him but America, we have developed, instead, a with one another, and to set on foot a national recklessness, spendthriftness, and movement for the adoption of uniform wasteful extravagance, in which we have legislation over the whole country at thrown away everything but the very an early date. This is to be not only an richest part of our takings. The public unusual but a precedent-making conferland and the public water, in the form ence, since it is the first time the Chief of fuel, power, timber, navigable streams, Executive has called into consultation irrigable plains, and valuable minerals, the coördinate officials of the states; have been so administered as to beget but its importance from this point of both a confidence in the eternal bounty view, great though it is, appears but of nature and a habit of treating public slight beside the significance of the new property as a source of private fortune. policy which it brings to public notice.

To-day, a number of things coming It is essential that we should get very simultaneously to our attention call a clearly in mind at the outset precisely halt. Our timber resources, sufficient, what this new policy is intended to effect. if not radically conserved, for barely a Its inception has been so promptly folscore of years; our rivers suffering from lowed by the withdrawal from entry of deforestation; our decreasing water- the fuel lands remaining in the public powers falling into the hands of an in- domain, and the establishment of large creasing monopoly; our mineral fuels forest reserves, and the opposition of the becoming more costly to mine, and amaz- executive authority to any further develingly less abundant; our farm lands opment of water-power by private interlosing millions of tons of their most fer- ests on navigable streams or on public tile portions by soil wash, — all these lands, that many persons have supposed things, and many more, bring us face to that conservation was the opposite of face with the certainty that this policy alienation, and have imagined that Presiof spendthrift alienation and waste must dent Roosevelt's plan was to hold all

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remaining public property in common appear before trial to offer a happy and develop it on a more or less social- means of bringing about co-legislation istic basis. Nothing could be further without infringing upon the dignity of from the truth. The resources which are any member of the Union. Calling the to be conserved are natural, not national Democratic South and the Republican He plans to direct the organization of North into a common conference has public sentiment, and the formulation become necessary, too, just because of of laws by which all such resources, their political difference; for any measwhether in land or in water, whether ure which might be brought to the notice national, state, or privately owned, shall of their respective congressmen would be administered in a way to preserve in- obtain favor or disregard according as tact or to increase the principal of them, the congressmen were with or against and to give to each succeeding genera- the party of the President. tion a larger wealth from the interest. The immediate purpose is to bring

In the consideration of this proposi- about three sorts of legislation: that tion two questions immediately arise: which controls national resources,

that first, what are these resources and how which controls state resources, and that are they to be conserved ? second, how which directs the development of recan the states and the federal govern- sources privately controlled. In this the ment coöperate to attain this result? coöperation of the states is not only Leaving the first of these for the moment desirable, it is absolutely essential. The and considering the second, the imme- federal authorities may enact laws for diate motive of the present conference, the maintenance and development of we find an attempt to solve by a master the public domain, both in land and in stroke a problem for which no solution water; they may enter into partnerships, is provided in our form of government: and do so enter, for the improvement that of bringing about parallel legisla- of navigation and power in navigable tion in several states at the same time. streams and for carrying on irrigation; Our government is organized from the they may acquire land and establish point of view of the individual states, reservoirs where such reservoirs can be and it is so made up that both the people shown to be necessary for the purpose of of these states as individuals, and the maintaining navigation; they may shape states themselves as governing entities, the methods of taking fuel from the pubmay have effective influence in shap- lic land by inserting their requirements ing national legislation at Washington. in the lease or deed under which the There is nothing whatever of a recip- land is partially alienated. In addition, , rocal nature whereby the whole nation they may carry on a campaign of edumay either force, impel, or request a cation aimed to persuade individuals single state to legislate in a manner com- to adopt rational methods. But a state mon to all. Any movement toward such can go much farther. It may buy land interference within a state would be con- and plant forests without regard to the sidered such an infringement of the rights purpose for which the forest is estabof the states as might possibly plunge lished. It may drain local swamps. It us again into the abyss of civil war. The may create reservoirs on small and intendency of the present administration significant streams, for the purpose of toward centralization is well known; yet providing a town water-supply, of imeven the President would hesitate to proving water-power, or for any reason attempt to bring about his purpose by whatever. It may enter into partnership any other means than those which he has with its citizens and coöperate with adopted. Yet these means, “spectacu- them in forest development, in guarding lar” as one governor has called them, against fires, in the erection of dams, in

the management of mines, in any way Returning to the first question, the
it may choose. It
may exercise its police

manner of conservation, we find that power to provide that those who own all these resources are so closely allied private forests must police them, must that any scheme for their final developcut fire-breaks, must burn their slash- ment must consider all of them, and in ings, and may not cut to exceed the in- many relations. Thus the forest cover crement in any year. It may encourage must be used to aid in reservoiring tree-planting by direct legislation and by streams for navigation, for irrigation, and passing taxes on wooded lands. It may for water-power; the improvement of the by law put land in escrow during the range and the regulation of grazing must carrying out of large improvements; and go hand in hand with tree-planting and it may even direct the economy of fuel farm improvement to prevent soil wash; at the furnace.

the development of water-power by the In the White House conference, there- forests and by the creation of storage fore, President Roosevelt, who will him- basins must be connected with any moveself preside, will present to the governors ment to conserve our fuel supply. a number of expert investigators and The forests now standing in the engineers who will tell them of the need United States and Alaska aggregate and of the proper method of obtaining probably 500,000,000 acres, of which the necessary reforms. Deliberation something more than one-fifth — probupon these things, and the bringing to- ably about one-fourth - is in national gether of the governors upon a definite reserves, and a few million acres more purpose, will bring about mutual under- in state reserves. Much of this, and standing and intelligence. Committees especially of the national reserve, is exwill be appointed to consider the requi- tremely thin forest, being more used for site legislation and the possibilities of or suited to grazing than tree-growing: action in the several states, and the gov- and there are large barren areas in it. ernors, or those of them who are so dis- A large part of the unreserved forest is posed, will present these measures for in Alaska. At the present rate of cutthe consideration of their legislatures. ting and of growth, these forests are not How successful this will be it would be sufficient for a score of years. That is to idle to prophesy; but it is certain that in say, there will be forests standing longer the present temper of the country the than that, but the shortage in many several executives, stirred by the empha- kinds of timber will before then become sis with which the President is accus- more acute than is now the case with tomed to debate this subject, will obtain white pine; and only the importation of a modicum of what is desired.

large supplies duty-free from Canada, Though it might at first alarm those Siberia, and Mexico can tide us over who fear centralization, and appear to until our new methods have been given be a curious reversal of government

years for their effect. plans, it would be in many ways a source When the cutting up of the public of benefit if this conference should prove domain began, a century ago, the lands to be the forerunner of annual gather- so cut, as well as large parts of the origings of our executives, or perhaps of inal states, contained the most abundant annual or biennial interstate meetings forests then standing in the temperate of legislators, in which common local zone. To illustrate what their destruction legislation on such other subjects as in- has been, and how needless, it is only corporation, railway regulation, and the necessary to consider the pine forests conduct of those affairs which affect about the Great Lakes. There were in other than individual states, might be that region sixty years ago upward of discussed.

350,000,000,000 board feet of white pine

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lumber, standing in almost continuous stumps or tangled with fallen and forests over northern Michigan, north- wasted trees. As if these accidental fires ern Wisconsin, and a good half of Min- were not enough, the lumbermen rushed nesota. The cutting of this timber began their men and their machinery to turn in a small way, a few million feet a year. out and market only the very best lumGradually this increased until it reached ber. So cheap did they consider their two, three, and even four billion, and product that nothing else could be sold. then swept upward with a rush, to ag- Whatever seemed too poor to be carried gregate nearly 8,000,000,000 in a year. to market was dumped, with the sawThen as the forests gave out it dropped, dust and shavings, the slabs and the until to-day it is less than 3,000,000,000 bark, into gigantic furnaces, —- wastefeet a year, at which rate the end is fast burners, - the smoke from a score of approaching

which poured up night and day beside Although many of the trees which the tiniest of the little harbors on the made up that big forest were several Lakes. The timber that was burned hundred years old, and several feet in in those insatiate maws, the bark and diameter, the white pine reaches its slabs that went into them, would to-day profitable growth there in eighty years, more than duplicate the fortunes of the at which time it is from twelve to fifteen forest pirates, had they been saved for inches in diameter breast-high, and pro- the still and the box-factory. duces 18,000 feet of boards to the acre. As the forests were cut and the forest Had the woodsmen who cut over the cover burned, the sandy regions of the first pine forests done so in a sensible pine woods began to suffer from soil manner, had they burned their slashings wash. The rivers were filled with bars, so as to save the woods from fire, and the land gullied, and the fertile top-soil, had they left a few trees to the acre for or as much as the fire had left, was seed, we would now have great tracts washed away into the larger waters. The of new growth well along toward ma- damage was immense, the loss irretrievturity. But they did no such thing. In able. The forests which should have fact, the history of our country contains enriched the state possessing them, and no such tale of devastation as that which have supplied the nation for all time to they wrought. Sherman's army, sweep- come, were slaughtered unmercifully by ing across Georgia, did nothing to equal men whose only object was to get their

money out at the earliest possible moCutting with mad haste through the ment, without regard to what might folheart of the big timber, they left the low. And as with white pine, so with broken trees, the culls and the slashings other woods.

other woods. The yellow pine of the where they lay, to become the source of south and the hardwoods are now folcyclones of fire which, driven by the lowing, and the famine in hickory is wind, swept mile after mile in advance

upon us. of the timbermen, destroying in a week Yet this state of affairs is easily rememore forest than would have been cut died. Germany, a century ago, faced in a year. More than the trees them- just such a situation as now confronts selves, the soil, slow accumulation of us. Then there began the work which ages, together with the possibility of we must now undertake. New forests reseeding, all were burned. So terrific were planted, wherever the land was were these fires that navigation was in- unsuited for other purposes. This plantterfered with by the smoke two hundred ing was done year after year, so that each miles away; and across the northern year a new tract would come to maturity. peninsula to-day reach barren stretches Forest wardens watched for fires, and of sandy waste, scarred by blackened laws forbade careless hunters setting

it.

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fires in the woods. Timbermen were and under laws which will make forest forced to gather and burn what twigs fires impossible. from the slashings could not be used in One of the first effects of thorough the still or burned for charcoal, and tree-planting will be the reduction of soil broad lanes were left through the forests wash. This constant theft of our fertile as stops for fires. In this

way

there layer is heaviest in the Missouri valley. those magnificent German forests which Humphrey and Abbott, who are not now return the empire an average net always to be believed, estimated that the annual profit of two dollars and a half Mississippi - receiving most of it from for each acre, on land which is otherwise the Missouri — carried out to sea every unusable; and, besides, give their serv- year enough earth to make a prism a ices free for the storage of water and mile

square

and more than three hundred for the retention of the soil.

feet high. Most of this comes from the In our own land something of this sort Bad Lands, and from the Yellowstone has already been done. New York has River. The barren Bad Lands, washed nearly two million acres of land in forest by the rain, sweep into the larger rivers reserves which are being carefully tended. to make bars and to give rise to many Pennsylvania has half as much. Min- problems for the engineer. Irrigation of nesota is already securing considerable the lands along the river by the use of profit from the management of its white storage-reservoirs, pumping-stations, and pine reserves and is seeding down large canals will do much to prevent this; but areas; and the other lake states are the forestation of the banks of streams also moving; but all this is being done will do even more. slowly, and lacks much of the energy One of the greatest of American reand the coöperation which should ac- sources is the western range. Decades company it.

ago the succulent grassés supported We cut at present about 17,000,000,000 millions of buffalo, and later millions of cubic feet of wood for all purposes cattle; but as the farmers pushed westties, cooperage, lumber, firewood, pulp, ward the herds retreated to the shortshingles, mine-timber, all included. An

grass country, where they roamed at large acre of average forest land in a wild upon the public domain, their owners state increases about ten cubic feet of paying no charge for their feed. This wood a year; an acre properly conserved happy, free-for-all state of affairs could and managed according to the best have but one ending. The rush to get methods of modern forestry increases something for nothing crowded the from forty to seventy, and in Saxony ranges till the grass was eaten and trameven ninety cubic feet a year. If the pled out. Cattle were followed by sheep average under conservation beforty which ate the very roots of the grass; cubic feet, the existing half-billion acres

and at last thousands of acres were dewell tended would be just sufficient for prived of the last sign of herbage and our present needs. But much of this is turned over into sage-brush desert. Here unavailable, much of it is of poor wood. again was a loss which all the country Before another generation has passed felt, not alone because of the loss of away we shall need double that area; cheap cattle-food, but most of all beand it must be located in every state of cause the soil was now as free to wash the union. It must be planted under away as in the deforested lands; the laws which will release the taxes upon barren surface did not retain the rains; planted land, assessing a timber crop the rivers rose higher in flood and fell but once, on its valuation at maturity; lower in dry seasons; and there began to under laws which will require that for manifest themselves the signs of desert every tree cut down a new one be planted; country.

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