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The fundamental resource of the country is the soil. It was said by James J. Hill, in an address before the first Conference of Governors, that "nearly 36 per cent of our people are engaged directly in agriculture. But all the rest depend on it. In the last analysis, commerce, manufactures, our home market, every form of activity, run back to the bounty of the earth by which every worker, skilled and unskilled, must be fed, and by which) his wages are ultimately paid."
While we had at our disposal vast areas of virgin soil, we took it for granted that agriculture could take care of itself and that manufacturing alone needed our best energies and skill. During the pioneer days, the frontiersmen cleared away forests for farms, and after getting what they could out of the land, abandoned it, moved forward, and repeated the process. That the application of science to the abandoned areas would have renewed the bounty of the soil did not occur to the pioneers, and it was only natural that the refinements of agriculture should have been neglected amid the rough struggles of the frontier.
As the tide of land-hunting pioneers swept westward it left behind it neglected and abandoned farms. All throughout New England and the eastern states there are deserted farm-houses falling into ruin, and vast areas once under cultivation are being overgrown with scrub. The rough-and-ready single-cropping system, the careless provisions for fertilization, the maladjustment in connecting the country with town markets, and the enormous charges for freight and express (due in many instances to watered stocks and monopolies) are conspiring to turn whole states into wildernesses. Society and science must cooperate with private initiative in restoring these regions to fertility and productiveness.
It is not only the methods of tilling which are causing this decline in fertility. The soil is also being depleted by natural causes, the principal one of which is erosion, or the sweeping away of the fertile surface into streams by means of torrential rains and floods. It is estimated that 1,000,000,000 or more tons of richest soil matter are annually carried into the sea by our
1Proceedings of a Conference of Governors, 1908, p. 72.
rivers.1 Millions of acres, particularly in the South, have been rendered bare and useless for agriculture largely by this process. One of the principal means of stopping this wastage is the conservation of forests which help to regulate the flow of water.?
The federal and state governments at present do little directly to aid in preserving and improving the fertility of the soil; but the experiments in advanced methods of cultivation carried on by the Department of Agriculture, the Experiment Stations, and state agricultural colleges, are doing much to show the farmers how to make the best use of their land and at the same time to conserve it for the use of posterity. Science will become the servant of agriculture as well as of industry.
While lending this aid to improving the methods of agriculture, the federal government is widening the public domain by reclaiming arid and semi-arid lands through gigantic irrigation undertakings. The Newlands Act of June 17, 1902,* authorized the Secretary of the Interior to undertake the work of reclamation on a large scale. The fund for the work consists of the proceeds from the sale of the public lands in certain states. The lands made available by irrigation are sold, in small tracts, to actual settlers, who pay the price in annual instalments, thus restoring to the reclamation fund the money that is laid out. Up to June 30, 1908, the sum of $50,661,549.27 had been paid into the fund from all sources.5
The work is done by the Reclamation Service, which is in the Department of the Interior. Reservoirs, drains, canals, etc., are constructed by the government," and from them the settlers can draw water by means of ditches to irrigate their farms. A large number of projects have been undertaken, some of them requiring engineering skill of a high order. One of the most interesting of these is the Shoshone project in Wyoming, which contemplates the erection of a dam over 300 feet high. The first 'Proceedings of a Conference of Governors, 1908, p. 78.
2 Readings, p. 365.
3 For the work of this important Department see Reinsch, Readings, pp. 401 ff.
For speeches in Congress on this act, see Readings, pp. 66, 371.
Largely by contract.
"The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. XXXI, pp. 203-218.
six years of the reclamation work resulted in making 767,958 acres fit for settlement, out of which 424,549 acres were actually irrigated.1
Some of the states are also carrying on similar work. For example, Idaho has undertaken stupendous projects. It has constructed one of the largest irrigation canals in the world and rendered arable more than 300,000 acres of barren waste. It has entered into contracts for the construction of large storage reservoirs to control flood waters. Utah is financing a number of reclamation projects. Missouri and Florida are carrying on large drainage operations, while New Jersey is ditching and filling in marsh lands.
Among the most valuable of the natural resources and the most necessary in the present stage of civilization are the minerals. Coal and iron form the foundation of our industrial prosperity. In one respect, the minerals differ greatly in character from all other natural resources; they cannot be improved or renewed. This makes a proper use of them all the more imperative.
It has been estimated that our original heritage of coal was about 2,500,000,000,000 tons. Authorities differ on how long it will be before the supply is exhausted, the common prediction being about two hundred years. There is always a possibility, of course, that new and unexpected deposits will be discovered. Still, the great increase of consumption during the last few years,2 makes the problem of conserving the coal deposits for future generations an important one.
The needless waste of our coal supply is due principally to two causes. The first is the wasteful methods of mining, which leave from 40 per cent to 70 per cent of the fuel in the mines, a large part of it beyond recovery. The second cause is due to the imperfect methods of combustion. It is estimated that about 90 per cent of the potential energy of the coal goes to waste.3 Our second great mineral resource is iron. The present stock
1 Report of the Secretary of the Interior, 1909, p. 24.
2 Readings, p. 371.
3 These, of course, leave out of account the social wastes due to competition. See Reeve, The Cost of Competition.
of iron ore in the United States is reckoned at about 10,000,000,ooo tons. Mr. Andrew Carnegie has estimated that the known supply will be exhausted before 1940. Other estimates are not as pessimistic, it being generally agreed that the supply will last until the end of the century. Moreover, it is likely that additional ore will be discovered. Nevertheless, even looking at it from the most optimistic standpoint, the conservation of the supply of iron ore is a practical question, particularly when we bear in mind the fact that about 80 per cent of the known iron ore deposits in this country are controlled by the United States Steel Corporation.
Another important mineral resource is natural gas. An absolutely unnecessary waste of gas is found in uncontrolled wells and leaking pipe lines. About 1,000,000,000 cubic feet are lost daily in the United States through these and other causes. The legislature of Indiana has passed a statute prohibiting the waste of natural gas through negligence, and all gasproducing states should follow her example.
The national government can do nothing to conserve the mineral resources that are now in private hands,' without modifying its traditional policy with regard to the sacredness of private rights, but an enormous amount of mineral land is found in the public domain, and this may be protected without coming into conflict with constitutional limitations. During the last few years, several measures have been initiated to safeguard public property in mineral lands. The first step is to withdraw these lands from entry and sale and properly classify them. The next problem is how to provide for their right use.
Of the various methods of reform suggested, perhaps the best, at least for the present, is the proposal that the government should cease to grant mineral lands in perpetuity, and, instead, lease them for terms of years at a proper rental, requiring the deposits to be worked in strict conformity with government regulations and under the supervision of official inspectors,
Proceedings of a Conference of Governors, 1908, p. 17.
During the great period of railroad construction many coal and iron lands were granted to railways. Enormous amounts have been sold to individuals at ridiculously low prices. Huge tracts have been obtained by fraud. Eight railway systems now control the hard coal fields.
3 Readings, p. 368.
so as to prevent monopoly, ensure proper mining methods, and check waste.1
In the forests we have a natural resource that is highly valuable, not only for their direct contribution to the welfare of the nation, but also for their indirect bearing on the preservation of some other resources, the soil, water power, and waterways.2 The primary use made of the forests is, of course, for the lumber supply, which is as necessary to us in our daily life as the various metals and minerals. But much more than that, the forests are necessary to preserve the fertility of the soil and to aid in the maintenance of natural waterways. They help to conserve the soil by absorbing moisture and compelling it to percolate under the ground instead of running off the surface. Furthermore, they check the water from rushing down in torrential streams, and thus prevent soil waste. They are essential for the preservation of water power and the development of waterways because they act as natural reservoirs and regulate the flow. By holding back moisture and giving it out gradually, they help to maintain a stable channel, thus preventing the drying up of streams in seasons of drought, and also checking floods at other times.
That there is need of calling a halt to the wasteful destruction of the forests is indicated by the fact that we are consuming them three times as fast as they are being reproduced. It was said by President Roosevelt that "some of the richest timber lands of this continent have already been destroyed, and not replaced, and other vast areas are on the verge of destruction." 3 For instance it has been estimated that at the present rate of consumption the forests of New York State (except those on state land) will be absolutely cut away in about twenty years, and that the privately owned forests of California will be exhausted in about thirty-five years.
Some of the states, as Utah, also own mineral lands. They too, are beginning to see the necessity of preserving them and are ceasing to sell them at ruinously low figures. The adoption of a leasing system by states owning mineral lands has also been advocated.
Readings, p. 364.
The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Vol. XXXI, p. 8.