It will doubtless surprise the lumber interests of this country to learn from the Secretary of Agriculture, that during the last seven years, in spite of an unprecedented demand, the amount of hardwood timber which has been cut from our forests has fallen off over fifteen per cent, and this, furthermore, in spite of the fact that the wholesale prices of hardwood lumber have advanced from twenty-five to sixty-five per cent. Moreover, the amount of standing hardwood in this country is estimated to be sufficient to last for the next sixteen years only. We are thus brought face to face with the fact, warning of which has frequently been given of late years, that we have been using up our natural timber resources with a prodigality which was certain to bring us, within a few years, to the verge of a timber famine. The Bureau of Agriculture urges immediate action to prevent the complete wiping out of our timber resources. National forest reserves are to be formed by the purchase of 5,000,000 acres in the Southern Appalachians, and of 600,000 acres in the White Mountains. The report of the Bureau upon which this recommendation is based contains the first thorough analysis of conditions in the districts affected. It gives some striking statistics, also, regarding the amount of water power available, in which it is shown, not only how completely the nation depends upon the Southern Appalachians for its future hardwood supply, but also what a great reduction the continued removal of the forest would make both in the navigability of the streams which head in these mountains, and in their value for water-power purposes. Both the Northern and Southern mountain ranges affected are shown to be advancing rapidly toward a condition of barrenness. In the uplands to the south of Pennsylvania fully 100 square miles of arable and forest land are lost to the country every year by the denudation of the forests and the resulting washing away of the soil. The Bureau brings out some startling facts regarding the water-power conditions, particularly in the Southern Appalachians, whose streams afford, during the lowest water of the year, a minimum of 2,740,000 horse-power. This could be developed by proper systems of storage from three to thirty times, and, on the supposition that one-half of the minimum horsepower would be available for industrial development, the Bureau states that the rental of these developed water powers would be worth $27,000,000 a year. If to this were added the possible revenue from the fifty per cent of power which is present for only one-half the year, the total rental would reach the high figure of $38,000,000. The question is one of the most urgent that will come before the present Congress; and whether the comprehensive and costly scheme as outlined by Secretary Wilson be adopted in its entirety or not, it is certain that some restrictive and preservative legislation should be immediately enacted.
This article was originally published with the title "Proposed Government Forest Preserves" in Scientific American 97, 26, 470 (December 1907)