CHECKING THE WASTE
A STUDY IN CONSERVATION
MARY HUSTON GREGORY
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What you would weave into the life of the nation, put into the public schools.
—EMPEROR WILLIAM I.
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INDIANAPOLIS THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY PUBLISHERS COPYRIGHT 1911 PRESS OF BRAUNWORTH & CO. BOOKBINDERS AND PRINTERS BROOKLYN, N. Y.
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I WHAT IS CONSERVATION? 1
II SOIL 10
III FORESTS 42
IV WATER 86
V COAL 124
VI OTHER FUELS 144
VII IRON 164
VIII OTHER MINERALS 181
IX ANIMAL FOODS 198
X INSECTS 217
XI BIRDS 236
XII HEALTH 265
XIII BEAUTY 302
XIV IN CONCLUSION 312
Much has been said and written on the subject of conservation and many excellent ideas have been advanced, but as yet too little has been accomplished in the way of practical results. Probably this is due largely to the fact that most people think of conservation as a problem for the federal and state governments, mine owners, great lumber companies, owners of vast tracts of land, and large corporations; and have not realized how much the responsibility for the care of our natural resources and the penalty for their waste rest with the whole people, that every one has a part in this work which has been called "the greatest question before the American people."
One cause of the failure to realize this personal responsibility is that while there have been college text-books and scientific treatises on various branches of the subject, such as Forestry, there has been no book treating of the entire problem of our natural resources, their extent, the amount and nature of their use, their waste, and what may be done to conserve them, prepared in a way that can be readily understood by the ordinary reader, and dealing with the practical, rather than the technical, side.
It is to supply the need for such general knowledge, and to show how such saving may be accomplished, that this book has been written. It is designed as a short but complete statement of the entire conservation question, and should be of service for study in teachers' reading circles, farmers' institutes, women's clubs, the advanced grades in schools, and for general library purposes.
Every statement of fact bears the weight of authority, for no facts or figures are given that have not been verified by government reports, reports of scientific societies, etc.
Information has been gathered from many sources, chief among them being the Report of the Conference of Governors at the White House, in May, 1908; the Report of the National Conservation Commission, the Report on National Vitality, the Report of the Inland Waterways Commission, of the Geological Survey, the Census Reports, and many government departmental pamphlets.
M. H. G.
Indianapolis, November 24, 1910.
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CHECKING THE WASTE
WHAT IS CONSERVATION?
A Nation's Riches lie both in its people and in its natural resources. Neither can exist in its highest estate without the other. Goldsmith predicted the certain downfall of lands "where wealth accumulates and men decay," but, in the truest, broadest definition, there can be no national wealth unless the men and women of the nation are healthy, intelligent, educated and right-minded. On the other hand it is equally true that if the people of a country are to make the most of themselves in mind and body; if they are to get the most comfort and happiness out of life and to become in the highest degree useful, they must develop its natural resources to the greatest possible degree.
The United States is particularly fortunate in its abundant riches of soil, forest and mine, and in the fact that from the beginning of the nation these have been the inheritance not of a people slowly learning the use of tools and materials, and emerging from ignorance and savagery, but representing the most advanced and enlightened ideas and spiritual ideals of the time.
The result of these conditions has been inventions and discoveries that have developed a great nation at home and have done much to better the condition of the world. But the very magnitude of our natural wealth has made us careless, even prodigal, in its use, and thoughtful men are beginning to realize that with the natural increase of population which is to be expected, we shall, if the present rates of use and waste continue, find ourselves no longer rich, but facing poverty and even actual want. But it is not too late to save ourselves from the results of our past extravagance. We are only beginning to see the danger into which we have almost plunged, but we see enough to make us realize that every one must do his part in checking the waste. Before this can be intelligently accomplished we must understand something of the great national movement for the conservation of our national resources.
Let us go back for a moment to the beginning of our history as a nation, the days of Washington.
Invention at that time was little advanced over what it had been three hundred years before. The same type of slow-sailing vessels carried all the commerce. Wind and water were the only powers employed in running the few factories. Only a little iron was used in this country, and in fact almost its only use anywhere at that time was for tools. There was little machinery, and that of the simplest description.
Anthracite coal was known in this country only as a hard black rock. Bituminous coal, gas, and oil were unknown.
The forests stretched away in unbroken miles of wilderness. The wood was used for the settlers' homes, their fuel, and their scanty furniture, but they needed so little that it grew much faster than it could be used. The man who cut down a tree was a public benefactor. The trees, though so necessary to life, were regarded as a serious hindrance to civilization, for they must be cleared away before crops could be planted.
To the pioneers as to us the soil was the most valuable of all resources. The rivers were necessary to every community for carrying their commerce, and turning the wheels of their saw and grist mills; while the fish, game, and birds made a necessary part of their living.
Under these conditions, with every resource to be found in such abundance that it seemed impossible it could ever be exhausted, and with a small scattered population to draw on all these riches, careless habits of using were sure to spring up. Our forefathers took the best that the land offered, and that which was easiest to get, and gave no thought to caring for what remained. Their children, and the new immigrants who came in such numbers, all practised the same wasteful methods.
In the century and a quarter that has passed since then, a great change has come over the world. By the magic of the railroad, the telegraph, and the telephone, all the nations of the earth are bound more closely to one another now than were the scattered communities of a single county in those days, or than the states of the Union before the Civil War.
The forests have been cut away and in place of endless miles of wilderness there now stretch endless miles of fertile farms, yielding abundant harvests.
Slow-going sailing vessels have given place to steamboats which now carry the river and lake commerce. But men are no longer dependent on the rivers, for swift railway trains penetrate every part of the country. The stage-coach is replaced by the trolley-car, and the horseback rider, plodding over corduroy roads with his saddle-bags, is succeeded by the automobile rider speeding over the most improved highways.
Farm machinery of all descriptions has revolutionized the old methods of doing farm work. The fish, game, and birds are largely gone and in their place are the animal foods raised by man. Modern houses, filled with countless devices for labor-saving and comfort, have replaced the simple homes of colonial days.
What has brought about this change? The energy and industry of American men and women, aided for the most part by American inventions, and made possible by the wonderful natural resources of America.
No one could wish to have had our country's development checked in any way. These great results could be obtained only by using the materials that could be had easiest and cheapest, even if it meant great waste in the beginning. Labor was scarce and high in this country, abundant and cheap in Europe. In order to make goods that could be sold at prices even above those of European countries, it was absolutely necessary to have cheap lumber, coal and iron.
But the time has come when we can no longer continue this waste without interfering with future development. Some of the resources have been so exhausted that a few years will see the end of their use in large commercial quantities. Others, such as coal and iron, will last much longer, but when they are gone they can never be replaced; and so far as we can now foresee, the country will cease to prosper when they can no longer be had for use in manufacturing. The length of time they will last at the present rate of use can be easily calculated. It is a long time for us to look forward, for it is longer than the lifetime of any man now living, or of his children, but it is within the life of his grandchildren, and that is a very short time in the history of a nation.
It may be said that while other nations have passed into decay, none has ever exhausted its resources so early in its history, and surely this great rich nation can not so soon face actual need. But we must remember that no other nation has ever used its resources as we have used ours. We are using in years what other nations have used in centuries.
It is not possible now, it probably never will be possible, to use every particle of a resource. This would be too expensive, would mean a labor cost far beyond the value of the thing saved.
In the beginning, as we have shown, the vast wastes were not wanton, but absolutely necessary, and we have not yet reached the point where we can afford to use the low-grade ores, to use all lumber waste and to practise many other economies that may sometime become necessary. But in the case of the forests we should provide enough trees for use in coming years, and in the case of all minerals, the refuse should be left in such condition that it can easily be ready for possible future use.
If conservation meant leaving our resources untouched, and checking development in order that there might be an abundance for future generations, it would be both an unwise and unacceptable policy; but it must be thoroughly understood that this is not what is desired.
Conservation does not mean the locking up of our resources, nor a hindrance to real progress in any direction. It means only wise, careful use.
It does not mean that we shall cease to cut our timber, but it does mean that we shall not waste two-thirds of all that is cut, as we are doing at present. It means, too, that we shall take better care of articles manufactured from it, and most of all, it means that, when a tree is cut down another shall, whenever possible, be planted in its stead to provide for the needs of the future.
It means that we shall not allow the farms of our country to lose five hundred million dollars in value every year by letting the rich top-soil drain off into our rivers, because we have cut away the trees whose roots held the soil in place. It also means that we shall not steadily rob the land of the elements that would produce good crops, and put nothing back into the soil.
It means that we shall not kill the birds that destroy harmful insects and thus invite the insects to destroy the crops that we have cultivated with such care.
It does not mean that we shall let our mines of coal and iron lie unused, as the miser does his gold, but that we shall, while taking what we need, leave as little waste in the mine as possible, and shall use what we take in the most economical way. This means a saving of money to the user, as well as a conservation of resources. It means, too, that we shall not allow our water-power to remain unused, while we burn millions of tons of coal in doing the work that water-power would do better.
It means that we shall not allow enough natural gas to escape into the air every day to light all the large cities in the United States. It means that we shall take better care of the life and health of the people.
This is the true conservation.
In the following chapters we shall take up each of the great resources in turn, shall see what we have used, what we have wasted, what remains to us, how long it will continue at the present rate, how it may be used more wisely, and how it may be replaced, if that be possible, or what may be used instead of those which can not be renewed.
We shall study how we may make the most of all that nature has given us and develop our country to the highest possible point, how we may rise far above our present level in comfort, convenience, and abundance, and yet do all these things with much less waste than we now permit.
The soil is the greatest of our natural resources. We may almost say that it is greater than all the others combined, for from it comes all of our food; a large part of it directly as plants which grow in the soil and which we eat in the form of roots, leaves, grains, berries, fruits, and nuts; and a part of it indirectly as animals, which have received their food supply from the plants.
But this is not all. The soil supplies almost every known need. We build our homes from the trees of the forest; combined with the iron that comes from the soil they furnish our fuel, our ships, our cars, our furniture, and countless other things. Our clothing is made from the cotton or flax which grows from the soil, the wool from the sheep that feed on the pastures, or from the silk-worms that feed on leaves.
So it is to the earth that we turn for every need, and Mother Nature supplies it. But it is of the soil as it gives us our food supply that we shall speak in this chapter, and we must first learn the nature of the soil, and the process of its making, in order to understand the need of extraordinary care in its management, and also how to use it so that it will not wear out, or become exhausted, but will increase in value for years and even centuries, as it will if properly cared for.
The earth's surface is constantly being renewed. Although the great formative movements occurred ages ago, yet earthquakes, volcanic action, wind, frost and water are working continual changes. Hills and mountains have been thrown up, and nature has gone to work at once to shave down the mountains and fill up the valleys. The whole earth is as carefully adjusted and balanced as the wheels of a watch, but these adjustments take place in long periods of time. In a lifetime, or even a century, the changes of the earth's surface seem few and small, but they are none the less sure.
The soil or humus, that is, the upper layer of the earth's crust which is used in farming, has an average depth of about four feet, and has been formed by decay, first and most important of all by rock decay which is constantly going on under the surface of the earth and in exposed places everywhere, and is caused by the action of air and water. This process is very slow. In places where the rock is already partly ground up, or, disintegrated, as we sometimes say, it is more rapid, but the average growth of the soil from beneath by rock decay is scarcely more than a foot in ten thousand years.
Some waste of this upper layer is constantly taking place from above, caused by wind and floods, and considerable additions are made to it by the decay of animal and vegetable matter, but in order to keep the soil at its best, the average soil waste should not amount to more than an inch every thousand years.
When this humus is once exhausted there is no way to repair the damage but to wait for the slow rock-decay. In the river valleys there is no immediate danger of exhausting the entire body of the soil, but on the hills and in the higher regions the soil-depth is very much less than four feet, and the danger of waste much more serious. There are parts of the earth that were once almost as fertile as ours where great cities once stood, but where now nothing is left but the bare rock.
So we know that the end is sure, even for the life of man upon earth, unless we learn to conserve our soil.
The value of our farm crops can not be overestimated. In food value they are the life of the nation; in money value, our greatest national wealth. For the year 1909 the total value of farm products was the amazing sum of $8,760,000,000. It may give some idea of this vast amount to say that if we could have it in the form of twenty-dollar gold pieces, stacked in one pile, the column would reach seven hundred miles high. If they were laid flat, edge to edge, they would extend from Alaska to the Panama Canal, with enough left over to reach from New York to San Francisco. If the money could be distributed, it would give us all, every man, woman and child in the United States, one hundred dollars apiece. The corn crop was worth $1,720,000,000; the cotton $850,000,000; wheat comes third with a value of $725,000,000; then come hay, oats, and other crops in vast amounts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The cotton alone was worth more than the world's output of gold and silver combined. The corn would pay for the Panama Canal, for fifty battleships, and for the irrigation projects in the West, with a hundred million dollars left over.
And this is all new wealth. If we build a house, we have gained the house, but the trees of which we build it are gone. The same thing is true of every article we manufacture. Something is taken from our store in the making. But after we have taken these wonderful crops from our farms the land is still there, and the soil is just as ready to produce a good crop the next year, and the next, and the next, if we treat it properly.
This matter of soil conservation is of the greatest importance to every one of us. If you are to own a farm, or rent a farm, or till a garden, or plant an orchard ten years from now, it will make a great difference to you whether the man who owns it from now until then knows how to care for it so as to make it produce well, or whether, by neglect, he allows it to become poorer each year. It will make a far greater difference if twenty years elapse.
It makes a difference to the farmer whether he gets twelve bushels of wheat to the acre, or whether he gets twenty, for the cost of producing the smaller amount is just as great as the cost of producing the larger, and the extra bushels are all profit. It makes a difference whether a garden furnishes all the fruit and vegetables needed by the family, or whether it does not even pay for cultivation, and the food must be bought at high prices. It makes even more difference to the dweller in the city, who must buy all that he eats, whether food is abundant or not. If food is abundant, prices are low, but when the yield is small the demand is so great that prices become high.
Not only the men, but the women and children as well, are affected by these food values, because it is from the extra money left over after the actual cost of living is taken out that the clothing, the house-furnishings, books, pictures, music, travel and all the pleasures of life must come.
Great as are our harvests, we are not raising much more than enough for our present needs. Each year we are using more of our food at home, and have less to export to other countries. In a few years more the public lands will all be taken, and there will be comparatively little more land than we now cultivate to supply a population that will be many times as great as at present.
Men who watch the great movements of the world tell us that the time is coming before many years when there will not be food enough to supply all our people, when we shall be buying food from other countries instead of selling to them, when we shall have famine instead of plenty unless we realize the danger and at once set about to make the most of every acre of our land.
James J. Hill, the great railroad builder of the Northwest, and one of the best informed men of the country on food production and the increase of population, is doing a great work in pointing out these dangers to the people on every possible occasion.
Watching the great food-producing region of the country, he has noted that each year the yield per acre is growing less, and the population steadily more. He tells us that when our first census was taken only four per cent. of the people lived in cities, that fifty years ago one-third of the people lived in cities, and two-thirds in the country, that is, two-thirds of the people were furnishing food to the remainder. Now conditions are almost exactly reversed. Only one-third remain in the country, and must supply the food, not only for themselves, but for all the two-thirds who are not food producers, so that the food supply is lagging far behind the demand. The price of corn has advanced from twenty-five cents to sixty-five cents a bushel in ten years, and this in turn raises the price of live stock. And so all along the line. Prices are growing higher all the time because not enough food is being produced to supply the demand.
So we can see that it is absolutely necessary that the soil be properly cared for if we are to continue to increase and prosper, for as Secretary Wilson has said, "Upon the fertility of the soil depends the whole business of agriculture."
The soil is exhausted in two ways: (1) By erosion, or the carrying away of the entire soil itself. (2) By so using the soil that one or more of its principal elements are worn out. We shall consider this form of soil exhaustion first, because it more directly concerns the work of every farmer.
By a fertile soil is meant one that has an abundance of plant food in the proper proportions. The soil contains all the elements that are needed to support life, but they are in an inorganic form, that is, they are lifeless. Plants alone can take these inorganic substances from the soil, and change them into starch, sugar, fats, and protein. All animals, including man, must get these substances through plants, or through other animals that have already absorbed them from plants.
The soil contains ten elements that are absorbed or assimilated by plants. These are: (1) lime, (2) magnesia, (3) iron, (4) sulphur, all of which are found in most plants in very small proportions, and are present in most soils in quantities far beyond the needs of crops for ages to come; (5) carbon, which is obtained by plants through their leaves directly from the air and the sunshine; (6) hydrogen and (7) oxygen, which are taken from the water in the soil and carried to the leaves, where they also help to take the carbon from the atmosphere. With none of these elements, then, does the farmer need to concern himself in regions where the water supply is abundant, as they are, and will continue to be, plentifully supplied by nature. But the other three, (8) nitrogen, (9) potassium, and (10) phosphorus, are needed by plants in large quantities, and are taken from the soil far more rapidly than nature can replace them.
All these elements are necessary to plant life, but some plants require a large amount of one element, others a small proportion of that, but a large amount of some of the others. No two varieties of plants require exactly the same proportions, so it is easy to see that the plant that takes out of the soil any one element makes the soil less capable each year of producing a good crop of the same kind.
In the early days of farming in this country, it was the custom to grow a single crop, which had been found to give good results, year after year in the same field. In Virginia and other near-by states nearly all the best land was given every year to the cultivation of tobacco, which exhausts the soil rapidly. In the states farther north other crops were planted in the same way. As a result, some of the most fertile soil in Virginia, the Carolinas, Massachusetts, and other eastern states has been so exhausted that it is no longer worth cultivating. Everywhere throughout the New England states are to be found these worn-out farms, and, while they were never so fertile as the lands of the Mississippi Valley, each one was rich enough to support a family in comfort, with something left to sell; but because they were required to produce the same crops, and so take the same element from the soil, year after year, they have become so lacking in one of the essential elements that they are unfit for cultivation, and have been abandoned.
It is wisdom and good business policy for farmers to study carefully this question of plant food and to learn what each crop is taking from the soil, so that it may be replaced. It has been found by long and careful experiments, that when land has been "single cropped," as this abuse of the land is called, for a long time, the soil has been almost entirely deprived of its nitrogen. As you know, nitrogen is one of the elements of the air, so that there is a never-ending supply, but most plants are unable to take it from the air, and until the last few years the task of replacing nitrogen in the soil was considered impossible. Recent discoveries, however, have shown that there are two ways in which it may be done. By means of electricity, nitrogen may be directly combined with the other elements of the soil. The other method is nature's own plan, and so is easier and cheaper. It has been found that while most plants exhaust the nitrogen from the soil, one class of plants, the legumes, of which beans, peas, clover, and alfalfa are the best known, have the power of drawing large stores of nitrogen from the air, and, by means of bacteria attached to their roots, restoring it to the ground.
So farmers have learned that if they plant corn one year, it is wiser not to plant corn in the same field the next year, but to sow wheat, which requires less nitrogen, and the following year to sow clover, so that the nitrogen which the corn and wheat have taken from the soil, may be put back into it. If the land be naturally fertile, and has been well cared for, the soil is then ready to produce a good crop of corn again.
If the soil has become worn-out and the farmer is trying to improve its general condition, he can gain better results by keeping the field in clover a second year, when a profitable crop of clover seed may be had from the land. This system of changing each year, and alternating cereal crops, which take the nitrogen from the soil, with leguminous plants, which restore it to the soil again, is called "rotation of crops," and if regularly followed will preserve a proper balance of nitrogen in the soil.
In some parts of the West there is a lack of decaying vegetable matter in the soil, because the few plants which naturally grow there have small roots, and leave little vegetable material behind when they decay. For this condition one of the best crops to employ in rotation is sugar-beets, because they strike many small roots deep into the earth. As these decay, each leaves behind a tiny load of vegetable mold deep in the earth, and also makes the soil more porous. As the principal elements of the soil needed by sugar-beets are carbon and oxygen, which are absorbed from the air and sunshine, and as the beets can be sold at a good profit, it is an excellent crop to employ in rotation. In the United States records in various states show that where sugar-beets are used in rotation, the wheat and corn yield is increased from two to four times, and in Germany they are largely used to restore the fertility of the land, even if the sugar-beets themselves are sold at a loss.
It is most important that farmers should understand the principle of rotation of crops, because nothing is taken from the soil so quickly or in such large quantities as nitrogen, and nothing is so easily put back; while, if it is not so replaced, the land becomes worthless.
A comparison of the results of single cropping and the rotation of crops has been clearly shown at the Experiment Station of the Agricultural College of the State of Minnesota, where for ten years they have planted corn on one plot of ground. For the first five years it averaged a little more than twenty bushels per acre, and for the last five years, eleven bushels.
On another plot, where corn was planted in rotation, the average yield was more than forty-eight bushels, the difference in average in the two plots being thirty-two bushels, or twice the value of the entire average yield on the exhausted ground. The corn grown at the end of the ten years was only about three feet high, the ears were small, and the grains light in weight. But it cost just as much to cultivate the land that produced it as it did to cultivate the land that produced forty-eight bushels.
Of the other two elements, potassium is found abundantly in most soils. It is also found in a readily soluble form in various parts of the United States and is sold at a very low price. But even if these deposits were exhausted we could still use the rocks which are very rich in potassium, and are very abundant, in a pulverized form, or potash could be manufactured from them.
The only remaining element of the soil is phosphorus. This element was discovered in 1607, the year of the first English settlement at Jamestown and was first noticed because of its property of giving off light from itself. The name which was given it means light-bearer. It was at first thought to be the source of all power, to heal all diseases, and to turn the common minerals into gold. Although we have long ago learned that these ideas are absurd, yet we have also learned that its real value to man is far greater than was even dreamed of then.
It is the most important element in every living thing, for no cell, however small, in either animal or vegetable organisms can grow or even live without phosphorus. It is found in the green of the leaves, and helps to make the starch. It enters largely into the grain and seeds of plants, and is necessary for their germination, or sprouting, as well as their growth. Three-fourths of all the phosphorus in a crop of cereals is in the grains, giving them size and weight. It will thus be seen how necessary it is that the soil which feeds our plants, which in turn become the food of animals and of man, should contain a sufficient amount of phosphorus.
Phosphorus is taken from the soil in large quantities by every kind of crop. In parts of Wisconsin which have been farmed a little more than fifty years without fertilizing, it is found that about one-third of the phosphorus has been taken out of the soil, which would mean that in one hundred and fifty years, or a hundred years from now, the soil would be incapable of producing any living thing, and long before that time the crops would not pay for the labor of producing them. Almost every acre of land that has been farmed for ten years without fertilization is deficient in phosphorus, that is, so much has been used that the soil can no longer produce at its former rate.
It may be asked, if this be true, why the soil of America, which before it was cultivated had borne rich forests and fields of waving grass, has not become exhausted long ago. We must remember that nature always adjusts itself; that, in the wild state, all plants decay where they grow, and the same elements are returned again to the soil. But when the entire product of vast areas is removed year after year, the soil has nothing except the slow rock-decay with which to renew itself.
In tropical regions it is not necessary to feed domestic animals at any season of the year, but in those countries where the natural food can be found only during a part of the year, the need of artificial feeding is seen at once, and it becomes a part of the regular expense of farming.
It would be considered the height of folly for a man to allow his valuable animals to starve to death because of the expense of feeding them, but few people recognize the fact, which is also true, that it is equally bad business policy to allow the valuable crops of wheat, oats, and corn to starve for want of plant food.
The phosphates (that is, phosphorus) are the only large items of expense, and in a large measure this may be lessened by raising live stock, for which high prices can be obtained either as meat or dairy products, and returning the manure, which contains a large amount of phosphate, to the soil. If all the waste animal products could be returned to the land, Professor Van Hise says, three-fourths of the phosphorus would be replaced. All animal products are rich in phosphates. The packing houses manufacture large quantities from the bones and blood of animals.
The garbage of cities, when reduced to powder, yields large returns in phosphorus. It is said that if the sewage of cities, which in this country is often turned into rivers and streams, polluting them and causing disease, was reduced to commercial fertilizer, it would supply the equivalent of from six to nine pounds of rock phosphate per year for every acre of cultivated land in the United States. And this valuable product is now totally lost, and worse than lost, since it menaces the life and health of great numbers of our people.
There still remain to be considered the rock phosphates, the form in which phosphorus is found in separate deposits. The only large deposits that have been used are in Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee, and from them about two and a quarter million tons were mined in 1907. Unfortunately, however, there is no law that prevents its export from this country, and almost half of this found its way to Europe, where it is eagerly sought at high prices.
Within a short time valuable phosphate beds, more extensive than any before known to exist in this country, have been discovered in Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho. Professor Van Hise, who is one of the highest authorities on the subject, says of these deposits that with the exception of our coal and iron lands, they are our most precious mineral possession; that every ounce should be saved for the time which is coming when the population will have outgrown the capacity of the land, and means of increasing its fertility in order to prevent famine will be sought from every possible source.
The other great waste of the soil is by erosion, or the wearing away of the soil by stream-flow. We can all see this in a small way by wandering along the shore of any swift-running stream and noticing how the banks are worn away, and what deep gullies and ravines are cut into them by the water running down from the fields above. Another way in which we can observe the effect of this waste is by noticing the muddy yellow color of streams during floods and after heavy rains, and comparing it with the clear blue of the same stream at ordinary times.
When we realize that this muddy color always means that the water is filled with soil, all that it will hold in solution, that it is carrying away the top soil, which is best for agriculture, and, finally, that every little streamlet and creek, as well as the mightiest river, is carrying this rich soil-deposit downward toward the sea in its flow, we begin to see how great a factor erosion is in the wasting of the land.
The Missouri River, which drains a large area of wheat and corn land, is notable as a muddy, yellow river at almost all seasons. Do you understand what that means? It means that this great productive region is growing poorer each year, and that as the population increases, and the need of great harvests increases, the land is becoming less able to produce them. The Mississippi River is said to tear down from its banks more soil each year than is to be dredged from the Panama Canal. At the mouth of the river is a delta many miles in extent, formed wholly of land that has been carried down the river. The soil in lower Mississippi and Louisiana is almost black, and is in many places seventy feet in depth, and it has all been left there by the river, which took it from the higher lands.
It is estimated that our rivers carry out to sea one billion tons of our richest soil each year. The ancient Egyptians worshiped the Nile because each year the spring floods left behind the rich soil deposits that fertilized their fields and gave them an abundant harvest. Entire fields and even whole farms along the upper stretches of the Mississippi and Missouri have been carried away, not the top soil only, but the land itself, by the swift current of the springtime floods as they cut a new channel for the river.
Canaan, the "land of promise" of the Bible, was once an abundant region, "flowing with milk and honey" in the language of Moses, with its grapes, its vast forests of cedar, fir, and oak, its treasures of wheat, olive-oil, and other rich agricultural products. Now all are gone. The entire country seen by the traveler in the Holy Land to-day is one of the most desolate regions on the globe, where the few inhabitants are scarcely able to obtain a scanty living.
We wonder what has brought about this change, and we have not far to seek in answer to our questioning. The preservation of the forests means the preservation of the soil, and the destruction of the forests means the destruction of the soil. This is the universal law. First the forests were cut down and the hillsides left bare. Then the streams wore great ravines down the unprotected hillsides. Steadily the work of destruction by erosion has gone on, until time beyond our possibility to comprehend must pass before the land can be made productive again. The hills and valleys of China have been devastated in the same way, and many of the older regions of the earth that were once the sites of great cities and extensive commerce are now marked only by the ruins of the civilization that has passed away. They have almost ceased to support life.
In the days of Rome's greatness, Sicily was known as "the granary of Rome" because from this little island came the grains to supply her vast armies. 12,000,000 bushels of grain was the tribute that Rome claimed of Sicily each year, and yet Sicily had enough left to make her rich. She built splendid cities and became great. But the same story of destruction is to be read in the history of Sicily. Now the entire island does not raise a million and a half bushels of wheat altogether. The soil is barren. The cities have nearly all fallen into ruin. The people are scattered. Thousands have come to America, seeking a poor living at the lowest wages because at home there was no chance to earn even the little they require. They allowed the soil to become exhausted by lack of fertilization and by erosion and it long ago ceased to support the people. All the rest followed naturally.
In many parts of our own country this same danger is coming on us. It is only the beginning, but the end is as sure for us as for those far-off Eastern countries.
Millions of acres have already been destroyed in the East and South. The Appalachian mountain system lies not far from the coast, and the rivers on the eastern slopes are short and swift. It is necessary, then, to exercise the greatest care of the forests in order to prevent the floods in this region from carrying away the lands in their swift rush to the sea. North Carolina was one of the richest states in the Union in natural resources a hundred years ago. Now it is low on the list in agricultural products. The forests on its mountain tops were valuable for their lumber, their turpentine, pitch, and other products, and great lumber companies have almost denuded the hillsides, regardless of the fate of the lands they cut over. The people of the state are powerless to prevent this except by buying all of these lands and replanting the forests. They have been pleading with Congress for power to stop the destruction of their forests and the wasting of their lands, but so far have received no assistance and meanwhile the land grows poorer each year. The same conditions are to be found in many other states that now rank high agriculturally, but in North Carolina we are beginning to see results.
In order to understand exactly how the damage is done to the land, let us suppose a case which has actually occurred in hundreds of places. A farmer owned a farm on the mountain side. Much of it was good wheat land, but the top was covered with forests. At last he decided to cut and sell the timber, and use the land for raising more wheat. He did so, but now there was no spreading foliage to check the dash of the heavy rains as they fell to the ground. As they sank below the surface there were no masses of tangled roots to hold the moisture in the soil and to carry it up into the air again through the trees.
As the water penetrated deeper, the soil became softened, and was carried away down the hillside. It was only a muddy little stream, but it took away some of the richest soil from the fields, and the next year's crop was not quite so good. Every rain that fell carried more of the fertile soil down the hillside, and the next year the farmer wondered that the yield was still less. After a few years he ceased to sow the field because it had never paid for its cultivation, and was constantly growing poorer. But it was too late then to repair the damage that had been done. There were no seeds of forest trees left in the ground and the farmer did not plant them, so the ground lay idle and desolate. The rain wore deep gullies down the hillside, which, as they grew larger, became more of a menace to the lands below them. The streams soon grew large enough to take the top-soil from the fields lower down, and in a few years more the whole farm had grown so unproductive that the farmer, tired of the struggle, left the farm and went to the city to make a living.
In the meantime the land in the valley below had been growing more fertile, for each year the spring floods had left a rich soil deposit behind them. The farmer down there had been innocently stealing the land above him, but not all of it, for much had been carried out to sea.
It is not possible to prevent this entirely, but much of the loss might have been avoided by leaving the hilltops, which are never well fitted for cultivation, covered with forests. In this way the soil-wash from above is prevented and the streams run gently and with only a small amount of muddy deposit, forming proper drainage for the soil.
The preserving of the forests on the great mountain ranges of the country, where nature has placed them, will mean in the one matter of soil-wash, fruitful lands and bountiful harvests, instead of barren, wasted lands, desolated by floods and seamed by great ravines, carrying desolation to the lands below them.
But in many cases the trees are already cut away. Here replanting becomes necessary and should be done in every case where soil-wash is beginning on the mountain tops. It is almost equally desirable to plant small shrubs and bushes as an undergrowth, so that the roots may form a thick mat below the ground to hold the water in the soil, and permit it to filter through slowly.
In Massachusetts, the tracks of the Boston and Albany Railroad are depressed so that trains may pass below the level of the highways. In order to protect the banks from erosion, the sloping sides of this roadway have been planted with trailing rose-bushes and other vines which have thickly matted roots. These serve a double purpose in preventing landslides and washouts on the tracks, and in adding greatly to the attractiveness of the scenery along the railway.
The poorest land of a farm is always found on the hilltops, because even with the greatest care there is always considerable waste of the top-soil. This land, then, should never be used for field crops. It should constitute the woodland, or if this is not possible, the pasture-land of the farm, for the grass roots protect the soil and prevent it from washing away, and the profits on the hay are at least as great as any other crop which could be grown on hill land.
But when erosion has been checked and the top-soil preserved, when the soil is thoroughly fertilized, and a proper rotation of crops established, there are still other lessons to be learned in order to make our country as productive as it might be, as it will need to be to support the population that we shall have by the end of the century.
As a nation we undertake to farm too much land and do it carelessly. The invention of labor-saving machinery has made it possible to farm hundreds and even thousands of acres together with little physical labor. This has made farmers heedless of small amounts of land wasted.
A man often only expects to make a comfortable living on one hundred and sixty acres of land, while in Europe he would expect to grow rich on two or three acres. It is often said that a French family would live off of an American farmer's neglected fence-corners. In France, in England, in Holland and Belgium every bit of land is tended and made useful. We have the best natural soil in the world, the most fertile river valleys, watered by abundant rains. The fertility of our lands is the envy of the civilized world, and has drawn thousands to our shores in the hope of finding comfort and plenty, and yet the total value of our farm products was only eleven dollars and thirty-eight cents per cultivated acre according to the last census, while in the little island of Jersey, just off the English coast, the average annual value of products is over two hundred and fifty dollars per acre.
Germany has been cultivated nearly eighteen hundred years, the soil is not naturally so productive nor the climate so favorable as ours, but the wheat yield there averages more than twice as much as in this country.
When the most fertile land in the world produces so much less than poorer lands elsewhere it plainly shows that we are robbing the soil in order to get the largest cash returns in the shortest possible time and with the least possible labor.
The American farmer needs to cultivate a much smaller amount of land thoroughly, to have a soil analysis made of his land in order to know what crops are best suited to it and what elements are lacking to make it produce the best. In Illinois more than half a million acres had become unfit for cultivation. Analysis showed that the soil was too acid. By mixing limestone dust with the soil the trouble was corrected and the land reclaimed.
Often it is only necessary to find the cause of some deficiency, or lack, in the soil, and the remedy will be found to be simple and cheap, while the result of its use will be to double the crop. Nothing else so quickly and easily responds to proper treatment, no other resource is so easily conserved. All the soil needs is proper treatment.
Every bit of waste land should be cultivated for either use or beauty, or both. If all the lanes and neglected places could be planted with fruit and nut trees, berry vines, and bushes, herbs or flowers which need little cultivation after they are planted, our food, in variety and quantity, would be greatly increased. "The hedge-rows of Old England" are famous for their beauty and the air of comfort and prosperity they give. They take the place of the weeds that grow by the country roadsides in America and which constitute one of the greatest nuisances of the farmer.
Another thing that should be considered is the marketing of farm products. Near a city or near a canning factory the soil can be most profitably used for the raising of vegetables, for which the cost of cultivation is great, but which yield far larger profits than farm crops.
Within the last few years a new system of farming has been developed in the West, which is of great interest to all of us, both because it is opening up for production a large part of our country that has seemed valueless, and because the lessons that have been learned there are of the greatest advantage in every part of the country.
West of the one-hundredth meridian, which crosses North and South Dakota, the western part of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, and including the states west of them, lies a vast region that used to be known as the "great American desert." It comprises almost half of the United States. Here the noble forests of the eastern states and the prairie grasses of the plains were replaced by sage-brush and cactus. The soil was light in color and weight, and the rainfall very scanty.
It seemed impossible that it could ever be fitted for agriculture. But there were a few great rivers, rich mining districts, and excellent grazing lands. These attracted settlers, and to them some cultivation of the soil became almost a necessity. The waste waters of the rivers were used for irrigation and the land when watered was found to produce remarkably fine fruits and agricultural products. Yet there were hundreds of thousands of acres that could not be irrigated for lack of water, and the problem of finding a use for these barren, semi-arid lands remained unsolved for many years.
But here and there in different states and under varying conditions, after many experiments and failures, men began without water to grow successful crops on these semi-arid lands, where the rainfall was scarcely more than ten inches per year. Others following this method found success, and it began to seem possible that all this territory might some day become a great farming region.
By comparing the methods employed in different states, the few general laws have been worked out which must be applied in order to farm successfully in this region, though the details differ with local differences in altitude, climate, soil, and rainfall. Here farming is being reduced to a science. In other parts of the country a man sows his seed and nature cares for it, and gives him his harvest; but here he must wring from nature all that he gets, so it is only the man who farms according to fixed laws who can hope to succeed.
This system is usually called "dry farming," though "scientific farming" would perhaps be a better name, for the same principles that are absolutely necessary here will greatly increase the yield anywhere. The most important principle is to conserve every particle of moisture in the soil. It is necessary to go deep into the soil to find the underlying moisture. The seed-bed is made very deep. Plowing is from sixteen to nineteen inches deep, while in well-watered regions it is only about six inches. This deep seed-bed is thoroughly cultivated to make the soil porous, the soil being reduced to a fine powder. After sowing the seed, the ground is packed as solidly as possible. This is done by especially designed machines. The surface of the soil is kept broken all the time to prevent the escape of the moisture. This rule applies equally to all soils in dry weather, and will often save a crop of corn in any part of the country during a drought.
These are simple rules, but the practice of them is opening up the great semi-arid regions, not of the United States only, but of the whole earth. Western Canada, a large part of Australia, the Kalahari Desert of Africa, and many parts of Asia, which are all semi-arid, will in time become productive instead of barren.
It must be remarked that the grains of the East could not withstand the severe winters in a large part of the Northwest, so the Department of Agriculture sent men all over the world to find drought-and-cold-resisting grains. They found a hard winter wheat, the most nutritious in existence, which is now growing all the way from the Dakotas to the Pacific Ocean, producing crops far above the yield of the eastern states. 50,000,000 bushels of this wheat was raised in 1907.
The soil is the natural disintegrated rock, rich in the mineral elements, but lacking in decayed vegetable matter. The crops soon exhaust the nitrogen, and as clover and the common alfalfas can not grow there, the problem of finding legumes has been the most serious one facing this new region; but in Siberia the Agricultural Department has recently found a new clover and three varieties of alfalfa that will stand the cold, and Secretary Wilson believes that these will solve the problem.
Every acre brought under cultivation adds to the world's food supply. Can we even dream of what it will mean when 200,000,000 acres are added to the farm lands of this continent? It means prosperity for the farmers themselves, homes for those who are now crowded in cities, work for the idle, and food for the hungry. It means wealth and happiness for thousands now living and millions yet to come.
Lands. Report National Conservation Commission.
Soil Wastage. Chamberlain. Report White House Conference of Governors.
Conservation of Soils. Van Hise. (Same.)
Commercial Fertilizers. Dept. of Agriculture Bulletin, 44.[A]
[Footnote A: Department of Agriculture bulletins are free unless a price is indicated, and may be obtained by application to The Department of Agriculture. Washington, D. C. Postage is free in the United States. These bulletins contain the latest scientific information and result of research work by the government.]
The Liming of Soils. Dept. of Agriculture Bulletin, 57.
Renovation of Worn-out Soils. Dept. of Agriculture Bulletin, 245.
Soil Fertility. Dept. of Agriculture Bulletin, 257.
Management of Soils to Conserve Moisture. Dept. of Agriculture Bulletin, 266.
Fertilizers for Cotton Soils. Bureau of Soils Bulletin, 62.
Work of the Bureau of Soils. Bureau of Soils Bulletin.
Exhaustion and Abandonment of Soils. Bureau of Soils Bulletin. Whitney, 5c.
Phosphorus. Illinois Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin.
The Present Status of the Nitrogen Problem. Yearbook Dept. of Agriculture Reprint, 411.
The Search for Leguminous Forage Crops. Yearbook Dept. of Agriculture Reprint, 478.
Leguminous Crops. Yearbook Dept. of Agriculture Bulletin, 278.
Progress in Legume Inoculation. Yearbook Dept. of Agriculture Bulletin, 315.
A Grain for Semi-arid Lands. Yearbook Dept. of Agriculture Bulletin, 139.
The Sugar-Beet. Yearbook Dept. of Agriculture Bulletin, 52.
Dry-Land Problems in the Great Plains Area. Yearbook Dept. of Agriculture Reprint, 461.
Reports of Dry Farming Congress.
The Natural Wealth of the Land. J. J. Hill, Report Governor's Conference.
National Wealth and the Farm. J. J. Hill.
Aside from the soil itself, which supports all life, there is no other resource so important to man as the forests, with their many uses covering so wide a range.
The beauty and restfulness of a forest, the grace and dignity of single trees, the shade for man and animals, the shelter from storms—all these things appeal to our love for the beautiful, and touch our higher nature. The person who loves trees is a better person than the one who does not. As the poet expresses it:
"Ah, bare must be the shadeless ways, and bleak the path must be, Of him, who, having open eyes, has never learned do see, And so has never learned to love the beauty of a tree.
"Who loves a tree, he loves the life that springs in star and clod, He loves the love that gilds the clouds, and greens the April sod, He loves the wide Beneficence; his soul takes hold on God."
Trees have played an important part in the history of our country: The "Charter Oak," in the hollow of which the original charter of Connecticut remained hidden from the agents of the king; "Eliot's Oak," under which the gospel was first preached to the Indians; the wide-spreading elm under which William Penn signed his treaty of peace with the Indians.
But no tree has held so dear a place in the hearts of the people, or been so watchfully cared for as the old "Washington Elm" still standing in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Under it Washington took command of the continental army. It is visited every year by hundreds of persons, who stand with uncovered heads beneath its spreading branches. Many years ago it was struck by lightning and the upper part torn off, but all the broken edges have been sealed with pitch to stop decay. It has been covered with fine wire netting to prevent the bark being chipped off by relic hunters. It is carefully guarded from damage by insects, and the boughs are stayed by strong wires.
And so we might name many instances of trees that are loved and cared for on account of their beauty, stateliness or some event connected with them, but it is the usefulness of trees that we shall mention in this chapter.
In the larger use of forests is included their effect on climate and rainfall. It is generally believed that clouds, passing over the damp, cool air that rises from a forest, are more likely to be condensed into rain, and so we can establish the general rule that the country which is well wooded will probably have a larger rainfall than the one which has few trees.
Twenty-five years ago Kansas was a prairie state with few trees, and the semi-arid plains extended half-way across the state, but thousands of acres of trees have been planted, and crops have been cultivated, and the more forests and crops the farmer plants the more rain comes to water them. The great droughts which used to ruin their crops year after year no longer disturb them. The hot winds which could undo a whole season's hard work in a day are seldom heard of now. Kansas is no longer in the semi-arid region. It is one of the most productive states in the Union, and this has come, not by dry-farming, but by the cultivation of the soil and by the planting of trees.
Though rainfall increases, destructive floods become fewer, for the humus and the leaves on the ground in the forests hold the water as in a vast sponge, and, as we have seen in the preceding chapter, they keep the waters in check and distribute the rainfall gently and evenly on the lands below. They thus prevent erosion of the hillsides and balance the water supply of rivers.
Trees supply us with food and medicine, and greatest of all their direct uses, they furnish lumber for all kinds of manufacturing.
We can not think of life without the comforts and conveniences that we get from wood; but interior China affords a striking example of what it means for a nation to have a very small supply. There is no wood for manufacturing and the natives search the hillsides for even the tiniest shrubs to burn and even for grass scratched from the soil. Once this part of China was a great forest region, but century by century the forests have been used, not rapidly, as in this country, for China is not a great industrial nation, but surely, until there is hardly a twig left.
China is not the only nation that has suffered in this way. Many of the ancient peoples have entirely passed away; and the destruction of their forests, as we have seen in the previous chapter, was the first cause leading to their extinction.
Denmark was originally almost covered with forests. These were cut down for fuel, for lumber, and to make way for agriculture. For a long time there was no attempt to restore them, and now a large area, once productive, has become a sandy desert. In the same way, large parts of Austria and Italy have become valueless because the growing forests were cut down.
In France the forests at the head-waters of the Rhone and the Seine were cut down and fierce floods began to pour down the valleys each year, bringing destruction to property and crops all along their way. But France has long ago learned the lesson of forestry, and as soon as the danger was seen, the mountain sides were replanted with trees, and since then conditions have been gradually changing for the better.
France has had another experience in forestry that has taught her what can be done to save her waste lands. Near the coast were great sand-dunes. The winds drove them each year farther inland, and the sand was gradually driving out the vineyards and farm crops. In 1793 the planting of forests on these dunes was begun. Of 350,000 acres, 275,000 have been planted in valuable pine forests. More than half of these belong to private owners and there is no record of their value, but the portion belonging to the government has yielded a large income above all expenses, and is worth $10,000,000 as land; and this was not only valueless but was a menace to the surrounding country. In the interior of France a sandy marsh covering 2,000,000 acres has been changed into a profitable forest valued at $100,000,000.
A hundred years ago all the eastern part of the United States and the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific coast region were covered with thick forests hundreds and hundreds of miles in extent. Evergreens—the pines, hemlocks, cedars and spruces—grew near the coast in great abundance, while farther inland were found the most magnificent hardwood forests in the world.
Unfortunately, the first needs of the early settlers required them to cut down these mighty forests. The soil, which was very fertile, could not, of course, be used for farming purposes until the land was cleared, and so this was the first necessity.
The wood was used to build the cabins, to make the rude furniture, the wagons and ox-carts, and for fuel, but this disposed of only a small amount of the wood that came from the clearing of a farm. No man could give it to his neighbor when all had more than they could use, and there was no market for its sale. The trees were burned in large quantities to clear the land for the planting of crops.
Wood was of the greatest value to the first settlers, but it was also the greatest hindrance to their making homes, so they took no care whatever of what they could not use. It was burned or left on the ground to decay. As towns sprang up, there began to be a demand for lumber for houses, for furniture, for vehicles and for fuel from those who had no trees of their own. This made a market for the best grades of lumber at a low price, but almost every farmer would give away trees of the best hardwood to any person who would cut and haul them away.
Conditions have changed very slowly, but very surely. In every state, in every county and in every township there has been a steady clearing of the land as it fills with new home-makers. At the same time the demand has grown enormously each year from the dwellers in cities.
The opening up of railroads and telegraph lines in the middle and latter part of the century made a great demand for wood. The building of ships and steamboats, the opening of mines, the establishing of telephone and trolley systems, the building of great cities, all these have called steadily and increasingly for wood.
The time has long passed when wood was a hindrance to progress. For a long time there has been a ready market at high prices and it is rapidly reaching the point where we shall face an actual shortage of timber. This is not true of all parts of the country, of course. Maine, Washington, and parts of Oregon, Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi, Wisconsin and some other states, still have vast quantities of lumber, but trains and ships carry it to all parts of the world so there is no lack of a market.
The change from plenty, even great excess, to need, has come so gradually that few persons, even those living in the forest regions, have realized until within a very few years how general is their destruction. Those who, riding about a small portion of the country familiar to them, have been struck with the disappearance of the woods and the cultivation of the lands, have looked upon it wholly as a sign of progress, and have not realized that the same thing is going on in every part of the country.
The wholesale destruction of the forests, without replanting, has come mostly from ignorance. We have had all our resources in such great abundance that we have not hitherto needed to learn the lessons that the Old World has learned, sometimes at the cost of whole nations, but the time has come when we do need to learn them.
The first lesson is to study the various uses of the forests, to find how they are being affected by present use, their wastes, and the best means of preserving them. When all the people have learned these lessons, they will, undoubtedly, gladly set about righting the wrongs that have been done in the past.
The original forests of this country covered an area of about 850,000,000 acres, with nearly five and a half trillion board feet of "merchantable," that is, salable, timber according to present standards. (A board foot is one foot long, one foot wide and one inch in thickness.) Considerably more than half the original number of acres are still forested, but most of the land has been cut or burned over, some of it several times, and the amount remaining of salable timber, which includes only the best part of the trunk, is from two to two and a half trillion, that is from 1,400 to 2,000 billion, feet. The yearly cut for all purposes, including waste, is now over two hundred billion board feet;—some authorities place the amount as high as two hundred and seventy-five billion feet. This, however, probably includes firewood, one of the largest uses of wood, but taken very largely from worm-eaten wood that could not be cut into lumber. It also probably includes boughs, and other unsalable parts of the tree.
The timber cut doubled from 1880 to 1905, is still increasing at almost the same rate, and, if we had the timber, it would doubtless double again by 1930. But even at the present rate, the forests now standing, without allowance for growth, would be exhausted in from ten to sixteen years. The yearly growth of timber in our present forests is estimated at from forty-two to sixty billion feet, and the yearly cut at from three to three and a half times the amount added for growth.
That is, we are using in four months at least as much wood as will naturally grow in a year. The other eight months we shall be using our forest reserves, and each year there will be less forest land to produce new growth, as well as less old wood to cut.
Mr. R. A. Long, an expert lumberman who spoke before the first Conservation Congress, estimated then that the forests, making allowance for growth, would not last over thirty-five years. The government figures indicate that they will last about thirty-three years, at the present rate, but as the rate has been doubling every twenty-five years, many persons who have studied the situation believe that the supply will not continue in commercial quantities for manufacturing more than twenty-five years.
We must understand, must think, what the destruction of our forests would mean to us. It would mean fierce droughts and fiercer floods. It would mean the gradual drying up of our streams, a scarcity of water to drink, as in China to-day. It would mean that the manufacture of wooden articles would practically cease. The thousand conveniences that we enjoy as a matter of course would become rare and costly. It would mean that only the rich could build houses of wood, and this would force the masses of people into crowded quarters, not only the poor, but the well-to-do also. These are only a few of the many disasters that would follow the loss of our forests, and all these things might come to pass before we ourselves are old!
If we knew that at a certain time a tidal wave would engulf our homes, how we should work to save all that we could before the calamity overtook us! And we should set about the saving of our forests with equal care, for their destruction means distress for every one of us.
Fortunately, this is only the dark possibility. The methods of prevention are well known to those who have studied the history of the nations that have fallen, and the nations that have risen to power. It is only necessary that all the people should know these things and realize their importance, in order to keep conditions as they are at present or even to better them.
The methods of prevention are five. They are:
(1) To use the trees in the most careful and conservative way without the great wastes now common.
(2) To save the vast areas of forests that are now burned each year.
(3) To prevent loss from insects.
(4) To use substitutes: that is, to use other and cheaper materials to take the place of wood whenever possible.
(5) To plant trees and to replant where old ones have been cut, until all land that is not fitted for agriculture is covered with forests.
These are only the rules that good sense and good business would teach us to follow, but we have not followed any of them in the past, and now it will be necessary to do all these things if we are to continue to have enough wood to use to keep pace with our progress in other directions.
As an example of the rapid rate at which we are consuming our forests, we use nine times as much lumber for every man, woman and child as the people of Germany use, and twenty-five times as much as the people of England use. This is due to several causes, many of which we would not wish changed.
To begin with, this was a new and undeveloped country, a large part of which had never been inhabited, and all the land, as fast as it was occupied, must be built up with entirely new homes; and because wood is the cheapest building material it is the one generally used.
The growth of all European countries is mostly by the increase of their own people, while this is only a small percentage of our growth, which comes largely from immigration from other countries, so the increase of population is much greater here and the proportion of new homes needed is far greater. Improvements of all kinds, public buildings, churches and bridges were built in almost every European community long ago, while in this country these things are being done each year in thousands of places.
Wages are higher in this country, and more people are able to afford the luxuries of life, vehicles, musical instruments, and the large variety of small conveniences to be found in almost every American home but seen in few homes of the poorer class in Europe.
These are a few of the reasons why we use such a large amount of lumber each year. They are all conditions that mean a larger, better nation than we could otherwise have, with a higher standard of living, and while in some particulars, as we shall show, there should be changes that would conserve our forests, the great wastes do not lie in the use, but in the abuse of the forests.
Now let us see what use is made of all the wood that is cut every year. The greatest use of all is for firewood, but this is largely the decaying or faulty trees from farmers' wood-lots, or the waste product of a lumber region, so this does not constitute so heavy a drain on the forests as the fact that 100,000,000 cords a year are used, would indicate.
Twenty times as much of the salable timber is sawed into lumber as is used in any other way. Nearly 40,000,000,000 board feet are thus used, but lumber is used in a variety of ways, while the other cuts are confined to a single use.
The first and greatest use of lumber is for building purposes, for houses, barns, sheds, out-buildings, fences, and for window-sashes, doors and inside finishings of all buildings, even those made of other materials.
Next comes furniture of all kinds,—chairs, tables, beds, and all other house, office, and school furniture; musical instruments, pianos, etc., vehicles of all kinds,—farm wagons, delivery wagons, carriages and other pleasure vehicles, including parts of automobile bodies, agricultural implements, plows, harrows, harvesters, threshing machines and other farm implements. Though these are built largely of iron, yet one-fourth of the implement factories report a use of 215,000,000 feet of lumber a year, so the entire output of these factories calls for a large amount of wood from our forests.
Car building is the other really great use for lumber. Freight cars, passenger cars, and trolley cars use each year an increasingly large proportion of the product of our saw-mills.
After these come the various smaller articles, which, though themselves small, are used in every home and are turned out in such vast quantities as to require a very large amount of lumber each year.
An empty spool seems a trifle, but the making of all the spools requires the cutting of hundreds of acres of New England's best birch woods. Butter dishes, fruit crates, baskets, wooden boxes of all kinds, tools and handles, kitchen utensils, toys and sporting goods, picture molding and frames, grille and fretwork, excelsior, clothes-pins, matches, tooth-picks,—all these are mowing down our forests by the thousands of acres.
The lumber cut includes all kinds of both hard and soft woods. A very large percentage of this is of yellow or southern hard pine, of which several billion feet a year are used.
An almost equal amount is used for hewn cross-ties for railroads and trolley lines. Many sawed cross-ties are included in the item of lumber. The hewed cross-ties are made from young oak-trees, or from hard-pine, cedar and chestnut. Without them no more railroad or trolley lines could be built, and the present systems could not be kept in repair. Many other materials have been tried, but wood is the only one that has ever proved satisfactory and safe for this purpose.
The next largest use of lumber is the grinding of it into pulp to be used in making paper for our books, magazines and newspapers, wrapping papers, etc. The woods used for this purpose are mostly spruce and hemlock. The great sources of supply of pulp-wood are Maine and Wisconsin, and large amounts are imported from Canada, which greatly lessens the drain on our own forests.
Next in importance comes cooperage stock for the making of barrels. When we consider the many uses of barrels,—that vinegar, oil, and liquors are all shipped in tight barrels, which are mostly made of the best white oak, and that flour, starch, sugar, crackers, fruits and vegetables, glassware, chemicals, and cement are shipped in what are called slack barrels, made of various hardwoods, the hoops being always of soft elm, a wood which is rapidly disappearing, we can see the size and necessity of this industry.
Round mine timbers, largely made of young hardwood trees, are used to support the mines underground. Mining engineers say that on an average three feet of lumber are used in mining every ton of coal taken out. Assuming that 450,000,000 tons of coal are mined each year, this would mean that almost a billion and a half feet a year are used in the coal mines, and this is about the amount shown by the government report.
After this comes wood for lath used in building. This product is usually taken from lower class wood or logging camp waste. Then comes the wood for distillation into wood-alcohol for use in manufacture and to furnish power in engines.
Next in quantity used comes veneer, which has two entirely different uses. The highest grade woods are cut to about one-twentieth of an inch and glued to cheaper woods as an outside finish in the making of furniture. The other use is for veneer used alone, when a very thin wood is desired. This is employed for butter dishes, berry baskets, crates, boxes and barrels.
Next on the list come poles—electric railway, electric light, telegraph, and telephone poles. Every pole that is erected for any of these purposes, every extension of the service, and all replacing caused by wind or decay, means the cutting of a tall, straight, perfect tree, usually cedar or chestnut. If we think of each pole of the network that covers the entire continent, as a tree, we shall better realize what our forests have done in binding the nation together.
Leather is stained by soaking the hides in a solution containing the bark of oak or hemlock. Sometimes an extract is made from chestnut wood. This has caused one of the most criminal wastes of trees, for a great deal of timber was cut down solely for the bark, and the wood left to decay in the forest. But now, as the price of lumber advances, more of it is used each year and less left to waste.
The bark and extract of the quebracho, a South American tree, are being imported for use in tanning, and are still further reducing the drain on our own forests.
Turpentine and rosin do not in themselves destroy the forests any more than does tapping the maple trees for their sap, but in the making of turpentine trees that are too small are often "boxed" and the trees are easily blown down by heavy winds or are attacked by insects and fungi. Many destructive fires also follow turpentining, so that on the whole the turpentine industry is responsible for the destruction each year of large areas of the southern pine forests. The methods of turpentining introduced by the government result in the saving of thirty per cent. more turpentine, and also protect the trees so that they may be used fifteen or twenty years and still be almost as valuable as ever for timber.
Twenty millions of posts are cut each year in the Lake States alone, and the entire number used is probably two or three times as great.
These constitute the greater uses of wood, not a full and detailed list; but it plainly shows that all the uses are not only desirable, but necessary for our comfort and happiness, and that we would not willingly sacrifice one of them, and in order that this shall not become necessary, let us see what abuses we can find in the management of our forests. And here we find the most startling figures of all.
Great and important as is our list of products made from wood, we are surprised to learn that of all wood cut fully two-thirds is wasted in the forests, left to decay or burned. The largest forests are now all located far from the great manufacturing regions, and that means far from the lumber market. The cost of transportation must be added to every car of lumber sold. The freight on a car-load of lumber from the South to Chicago or other points in the middle West is not less than a hundred dollars, and from the Pacific coast it is very much higher.
It does not pay to send low-grade lumber when the cost is so great, and as there is no local market a large part of each tree is burned. All the upper end of the trunk and all branches are thus destroyed, although much valuable timber is contained in them.
At one mill in Alabama a pile of waste wood and branches as high as a two-story house burns night and day throughout the year, and that is probably true of all the larger mills.
If the timber could be conservatively managed as are live-stock products, so that all the waste could be utilized, all the small articles, shingles, lath, posts, tan-bark and extract, pulp-wood, wood for distillation and small manufactured articles would be made by-products of the larger cuts.
Much has been said of the greed of large lumber companies in causing wholesale and reckless destruction of the forests, and much of it is doubtless true, but the lumber companies cite the fact that no farmer will gather a crop of corn which will not pay for the labor cost of gathering, and say that at the present prices of lumber they can not pay the present freight rates to the factories. It seems therefore that a certain amount of waste is unavoidable unless wood-working plants are established near the forest regions.
The first great step in conserving our forests is to stop the unnecessary wastes in use. The next step is to take measures to prevent the great destruction of our forests by fire.
Those who have never lived in a great forest region can have little idea of the extent of the damage caused by these great forest fires. The loss of life of both man and animals, the sweeping away of houses and crops, the homelessness and misery of those who have lost everything they had saved, are not to be taken into account here, but only the loss of the forests themselves.
It is estimated that the loss by fire is as great as the entire amount cut for use in the entire United States. The National Conservation Committee reports that 50,000,000 acres of woodland are burned over yearly. This probably includes all burned-over lands, in much of which the standing timber is not destroyed, but the saplings and seedlings are killed as well as the grass for grazing and for the protection of the roots. Much land is burned over in this way year after year until hope of future growth is gone, though the damage to the large trees has not been great. In one way this loss is even more serious, as it shuts off the hope of future forests, but the loss of our full-grown standing forests is grave.
In 1891 this loss amounted to 15,000,000 acres, or nearly forty thousand acres every day in the year. Since then the work of the Forest Service in fighting fires and the great clearing of the forests, has reduced this somewhat, but it still amounts to no less than 30,000 acres of our best salable timber a day. This is the really great and serious loss of the forests.
All the wood that is used goes to make our country a better place to live in, to make its people more comfortable and happy, but all that is lost by fire is a loss to all the nation in comforts for the future, and in the present it means high prices for lumber because our forests are disappearing so rapidly.
And we are letting them burn at the rate of thirty thousand acres every day! More than enough to supply all our needs. If any one could gather together in one vast pile our houses and barns, our furniture, our wagons and carriages, our farm implements, all our home conveniences, our railroad cross-ties, our trolley and telephone poles, our papers and magazines, and burn them all, the whole world would be roused by the fearfulness of the loss. But we sit idly by and see the materials of which all these things are made and must be made in the future, and with them our shade, our water-sheds, the soil of the forest-lands itself destroyed, with never a word of protest.
In a paper prepared for the National Conservation Congress, it was stated that in some years government survey parties were unable to work in the Rocky Mountains for whole seasons on account of the dense smoke, and the fires were allowed to burn till the snows of winter put them out. The writer further stated that he believed from observation that the Forest Service, by checking fires in their beginning, has in the last few years saved more timber than has been used for commercial purposes.
Private owners of large tracts should be compelled to use the same care in preventing fires that is exercised by the government. This care, and the breaking up of the forests into smaller tracts by clearing the land in alternate sections would soon reduce the fire loss so greatly as almost to save us from anxiety for the future of our timber lands.
The next great loss to the forests is from insects. When insects have bored into wood it becomes honey-combed by the canals cut by the little insects and is utterly valueless. The loss to fruit and forest trees will be taken up more fully in the chapter on insects. At present it is only necessary, in order to show how much our forests suffer in this way, to state that the yearly loss from this cause is placed at no less than $100,000,000 a year, and the loss to fruits is counted at one-fifth of the entire crop. Some slight idea of the danger to our forests will be seen by the simple statement that forty-one different species of insects infest the locust tree, eighty the elm, one hundred and five the birch, one hundred and sixty-five the pine, one hundred and seventy the hickory, one hundred and eighty-six the willow, while oak trees are attacked by over five hundred!
This is exceedingly difficult to control and can perhaps never be entirely checked. Some remedies will be suggested later, and by having smaller forests, more carefully watched, some personal care can be given to the trees. In Germany the trees are as closely watched as are other crops, and the saving in value well repays this extra care and expense.
A much smaller loss comes from the winds that sometimes level all the trees over many square miles. This can not, of course, be prevented, except possibly in the turpentine forests, but care should be taken to use all the wood, never allowing it to decay where it fell, and also to replant the land with trees, unless it is fitted for agriculture.
A great saving of the forests may be effected by what is called preservative treatment, which consists of treating railroad ties, piling, mine timbers, poles, and posts with creosote or zinc chlorid to prevent decay from the moisture of the ground or from injury by salt-water borers. The use of creosote is almost double the cost of zinc chlorid, but it is much more effective and durable. A fence post can be treated with creosote for about ten cents, a railroad tie for twenty cents, and a telephone pole for from seventy-five cents to a dollar. In every case the timber treated will last twice as long as it would without such treatment and in view of the present high prices it is bad business policy to use timber in such a way that it will need replacing soon. It is estimated that if all timbers which could be profitably treated were so cared for, it would mean a money saving to the owners of $47,000,000, and an annual saving in wood equal to 4,000,000,000 board feet of lumber.
The next point in the conservation of the forests is to seek substitutes to take the place of wood. There are many uses of wood which nothing else will satisfactorily supply. For example, no railroad cross-tie has ever been designed of other material that does not increase the danger of railway accidents, though over two hundred kinds have been patented.
There is nothing that will take the place of wood in furniture, and in many small articles. Some articles might be replaced in metal, but it makes them too heavy or too expensive. But in certain lines there is an excellent opportunity to use other materials to great advantage.
Cars are now being built of steel, and of combinations of metal with asbestos. These are not yet entirely satisfactory, but it is hoped that they can be perfected soon. Cement and concrete are taking the place of wood to a great extent in building, and their use will doubtless increase rapidly.
When veneer is used for barrels and boxes it affords a saving of nearly two-thirds in the amount of wood required. This is a line of use where cheaper substitutes should always be used if possible, because a package is usually used only once, never more than twice, and then discarded, so that the wood is put to little real service compared with other wooden articles.
When possible, small articles of wood should be made only in a forest region or near saw-mills to use the scraps and save an unnecessary drain on the more valuable grades of lumber.
One of the most important lines in which substitutes are practicable is in the making of paper and box-board or pasteboard. The latter is sometimes called strawboard, because it is made from wheat straw, and where it is manufactured, uses a large amount of straw that would otherwise be wasted, but the great wheat fields of the West still have immense quantities of unused straw, which, if made into strawboard, would not only bring more prosperity to that region but would lessen the drain on the forests.
A box bound with wire and made of corrugated paper now takes the place for many light articles of the wooden packing-case. The strawboard also takes the place of wood-pulp for smaller paper boxes. Rice-straw, hemp, flax-straw, cotton fiber and peat have all been tested in a small way and found to make excellent paper, and it is thought corn-stalks can also be used, but none of these is now manufactured in the United States on a large scale. This is largely because the price of pulp-wood is low, and the cost of experimenting with new materials is great with the results uncertain.