The National Forest Convention:
Preservation and Cultivation of American Woods This article was originally published in the 1876 edition of Forest and Stream, though its argument is still relevant today, 144 years later.
The importance of the subject of arboriculture is sufficiently shown by the fact of the above convention being about to assemble at Sea Grove, Cape May Point, New Jersey, on September 7th and 8th, under the auspices of the American Forest Council. The necessity of investigating the subject of the denudation of the forest lands of America is conceded on all hands. Calculations have already been made and published of the number of years yet to elapse before the pine forests of Maine, Michigan and the West are exhausted. Forests have been regarded as growing for the sole purpose of being cut down. The whole question has assumed the form of a calculation of the annual lumber supply. We have already discovered, and the truth should be generally known, that forests represent more than lumber. They directly influence the climate and water supply. It was no mere poetical fancy which led Bryant to put into the mouth of the Indian at the burying place of his fathers the following words:
"Before these fields were shorn and till'd
Full to the brim our rivers flowed;
The melody of waters filled
The fresh and boundless wood,
And torrents dashed and rivulets played,
And fountains spouted in the shade.
Those grateful sounds are heard no more,
The springs are silent in the sun,
The rivers by the blackened shore
With lessening current run,
The realm our tribes are crushed to get
May be a barren desert yet.”
Let us look at the vast expanse of treeless country to be seen in almost any direction, let us then think of the long parching droughts from which the country suffers, and we will find that the poetical and the practical have, for once, been united. The British Government has discovered the utility of this view in reference to its gigantic dominions in the East. A knowledge of forestry is one of the prime qualifications of candidates for that branch of its service. They are sent to Scotland or the Continent of Europe to study the science under conditions and instructions of the most practical kind. If such knowledge were more generally diffused here, the results we have deprecated might have been avoided, and their further extension be stopped.
Forests are of such importance that we cannot afford longer to delay thorough, general and systematic investigation of the subject.
The meeting of the National Forest Convention cannot be productive of anything but benefit. It will draw the public attention to an important subject, and few when the necessary information is laid before them, will differ from the expressed opinion of the gentlemen calling the convention that, "as concerning climatic influences for the benefit of the life and health of the people, forests are of such importance that, irrespective of the vast material and more tangible interests involved, that we cannot afford longer to delay thorough, general and systematic investigation of the subject."
The question may be looked at from three points of view: climate, beauty and supply. In regard to the first we are confronted by a problem involving not merely the moderately healthy habitation of large districts of the country, but their occupation under any circumstances whatever. Trees attract and diffuse moisture; they equalize the rainfall and the temperature. Remove them and not only does the atmosphere become parched, but the ground becomes barren and vegetation dies out for want of water. Of the springs nothing is left but a dry basin, of the streams nothing but a rocky bed. America has received many warnings of this kind from other countries. Many districts around the Mediterranean, and once parts of the Roman Empire, present now an aspect totally different from that they wore when the power of Rome was at its height. Provinces most celebrated for beauty and profusion are either deserted or repulsive, and desolation has taken the place of fertility. The trees which crowned the ridges and hills were felled without prudence or regard to results, and chiefly through that agency the country was converted into a barren desert. Many portions of Italy and Asia Minor exemplify what has been said. The question arises: If such results have ensued elsewhere, why may they not do so here also? As to the supply of timber, if the United States exhaust her own resources, if the forests upon which such inroads have been made should, as they certainly will, become depleted, in what direction shall we turn? We have been lavish and extravagant, and have unfortunately helped to reduce Canada to almost our own condition, and cannot, therefore, look to our Hyperborean neighbor. The question will soon demand an answer.
Governmental measures ought, no doubt, to be taken to ensure both the planting of new forests and the preservation of what remains of the old.
In considering how far trees add to the beauty of a country, we must have regard not only to their place in expansive landscape, but to the beautifying of our homes and cities. There are places for them in all public squares, and in most, if not all streets. In the country and around country houses they should be reared on all sides, near the homestead and in the fields. Health and comfort alike demand their presence. Should it be said that "trees take a long time to grow, why should I plant them for others to sit under?" a sentiment is given expression to which is not only selfish, but stupid. There is, in the first place, a pleasure in the culture of trees which would alone amply repay any trouble bestowed upon them. In the next place, they are at almost any age beneficial to the soil and climate, and in a few years will afford both shade and shelter from the wind. Lastly, a few years more will bring them to such a condition that their timber can be applied to many uses and so be made a source of profit. It is said by one writer, speaking in general terms, that "groves and belts of woodland will in twenty years from planting— perhaps in less time — afford shade, protection, fencing, fuel and material for many other purposes." They protect, beautify and profit. The value of a country seat or farm upon which thriving trees are being reared is vastly enhanced by their presence, and to an extent altogether out of proportion to their value as mere timber. Thus, a house and its grounds may, from location and extent, be worth $10,000, although, the entire absence of trees gives the place an unattractive appearance. The same grounds, properly shaded and planted with trees worth $1,000, would in all likelihood sell at $15,000, so that $4,000 would represent the value not their own otherwise than as it represents the value of the beauty imparted by the trees to the property. This is a point worthy of the consideration of those who have constitutional objections to benefit posterity.
What has been said may inspire a few to take an active interest in arboriculture and help in guiding their first efforts. Governmental measures ought, no doubt, to be taken to ensure both the planting of new forests and the preservation of what remains of the old. But every individual who perceives the necessity we are endeavoring to urge, and who has even the most limited opportunity can help in the attainment of the objects had in view by the National Forest Convention.