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There are a number of causes of forest waste. A tremendous amount of timber is lost by forest fires which are caused largely by carelessness and could be often prevented by efficient government supervision. Another source of waste is the reckless cutting of young trees. Finally, the methods generally employed in lumbering are unnecessarily destructive, for about 20 per cent of the low-grade logs are left in the woods to rot or be burned. The private owner, usually intent on immediate profits, is seldom long-sighted enough to adopt a policy of conservation, the rewards for which he cannot expect to live to reap.
The national government is a large proprietor of forests. About 22 per cent of our forest area is to be found on the public domain, and it is the duty of the government to pursue proper methods of conservation in so far as those timber lands are concerned.1
The same short-sightedness that we have described in connection with the rest of the national domain has been found in the past in the treatment of public forests. Large areas have been permitted to get into private hands through the sheer unwillingness of Congress to face the situation. Under the so-called timber and stone acts, the repeal of which is being strongly urged, 5,000,000 acres of timber land on the public domain were sold from 1901 to 1906, to private individuals, for $2.50 an acre, or for less than $13,000,000, when their actual value was more than $100,000,000.2
Of late years, however, large tracts of forest lands have been withdrawn from entry and erected into National Forests. They have been placed under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service, which is in the Department of Agriculture. These forests cannot be indiscriminately cut, and they are properly cultivated and cared for. In addition to this, many forest fires have been prevented by the efficient work of the Forest Service.
Much is also being done by the state governments to conserve our forest resources. State forest reserves are being created, trees planted, and forest fires prevented. New York is taking the lead in this direction. It maintains forest reserves containing over a million and one half acres, under the jurisdiction of
Readings, p. 366.
2 Proceedings of a Conference of Governors, 1908, p. 187.
the Forest, Fish, and Game Commissioner, and the preservation of these forests is provided for in the state constitution. A new reservation is being established along the western shore of the Hudson, in conjunction with the state of New Jersey. In addition, the state is carrying on the work of reforestation, and plants thousands of trees every year.1
Another very important activity carried on by the states in this connection is the prevention of forest fires. Thus Maine has a force of forest fire wardens engaged in the work; a similar service is found in Washington; and Alabama makes it a criminal offence carelessly to set fire to timber.
The threatened exhaustion of our coal supply makes it particularly necessary to make proper use of another source of power, namely, water. In addition to its being a possible substitute for coal, water power is particularly important in places that are far from the mining regions and where transportation expenses are high. The development of water power has permitted the growth of industry in the South, and has helped to make the prosperity of many cities in the Northwest. It has become especially valuable with the increased use of electricity, as the power can now be transmitted fifty or a hundred miles.
The upper basins of the Mississippi and the Missouri valleys and the Southern Appalachian highlands contain important power sites. The rivers of northern and western New York can also furnish water power of great value, and enormous possibilities are to be found in the far West. It has been estimated that the total water power in the United States exceeds 30,000,000 horsepower, which can probably be increased to 150,000,000 horsepower by the construction of reservoirs.2
The most important thing that the government can do for the proper conservation of water power is to prevent the sites from getting into the hands of private monopolies and to preserve the
1 Large forest reserves have been acquired by Pennsylvania, which is also carrying on the work of reforestation. Wisconsin owns forest reserves, which are under the care of a Forestry Commission, and large tracts of timber lands are owned by the state of Washington.
2 Proceedings of a Conference of Governors, 1908, p. 294.
American Government and Politics
use of them for the benefit of the whole people. The first step in this direction is to withdraw from entry the water power sites on the public domain, and to a large extent this has already been done during the past few years. The Geological Survey is making an investigation of the water resources, and more sites will be withdrawn as the information is being gathered. The next step is to provide for the proper use of the water power, and within recent years a strong demand has arisen that the government should cease to grant water rights in perpetuity, and should reserve title to the lands and merely grant the right to develop and use the power for a term of years, charging a proper fee for the privilege.
Because of its power over navigation, Congress has a certain amount of control over water power sites in all navigable rivers. Up to a few years ago rights to erect dams were being granted by Congress at random and in perpetuity, but President Roosevelt checked this policy to some extent, and laid down the doctrine that such rights should be granted only for a term of years at rentals proportioned to their true values.
The national government can also do much for the actual development of water power. Thus the conservation of forests will even the flow of rivers in wet and dry seasons, and thereby enlarge the possibilities of using the streams.
The state governments have great opportunities for helping in the preservation and development of water power, but they are only beginning to take advantage of them. In New York, the State Water Supply Commission has made a critical investigation of the water powers of the state and a careful study of the possibilities of utilizing them. It has recommended the construction of reservoirs for the storage of water, and the state is to enter upon the work as soon as the requisite authorization for the issue of bonds can be secured. The state is to own the reservoirs and lease the power to the highest bidder. Wisconsin has also undertaken similar work. In that state, however, the construction is being conducted by a private company under state supervision.2
The government is much better qualified to develop our power
1 Review of Reviews, Vol. XLI, pp. 77 ff.
resources than any private individual or corporation. It can provide for comprehensive and coördinated action, having as its aim ultimate development rather than immediate profits. By doing the work it will confer upon the people many benefits besides the mitigation of floods and the deepening of navigable channels. Properly managed they should yield great revenues to be employed for social purposes.
During the early period of our history, previous to the development of railroads, water transportation was of special importance. This led to the construction of numerous canals by the state governments and private companies. But after 1850 water routes fell into disuse, and transportation by rail supplanted transportation by water.
During the last decade, however, the problem of transportation has taken on a new aspect. At the present time our commerce is developing at a much greater rate than our railroad facilities, so that the proper care and utilization of our water routes has become a pressing need. Moreover, the presence of navigable rivers and canals acts as a regulator of railroad freight rates through competition. Finally water carriage is much cheaper than transportation by rail. The waterways of the United States have an aggregate length of between 55,000 and 60,000 miles, but only about half of the mileage is at present used for navigation. It is now proposed to render available new routes and to improve the old ones.
Congress has done much in the past in deepening rivers and harbors, but its work has been desultory and unsystematic, largely with a view to local and selfish interests.' Thus far there has been a lack of any definite and continuous plan; many separate projects have been undertaken and never carried to completion and vast sums have been spent on projects purely local in character, which are of but little value to the nation at large. The total amount appropriated by Congress for harbors and waterways from 1802, the date of the earliest appropriation, up to and including 1890 was $214,039,886. During the sixteen years from 1891 to 1906 the amount was $301,447,046.
1This has been a great source of jobbery and log-rolling.
During the last few years it has become recognized that comparatively little of lasting value can be accomplished unless a permanent plan is formulated, and purely local projects are disregarded. No policy has as yet been finally determined upon. Several gigantic works are being urged. One of these is an inland waterway along the Atlantic from Boston to Jacksonville, Florida, and then across Florida into the Gulf of Mexico, so that ships can avoid all dangers of the open ocean. Another scheme is that of a Lakes-to-the-Gulf Deep Waterway. It is proposed to link Lake Michigan with the Gulf of Mexico by a deep channel. The scheme consists of connecting the Lake with the Mississippi River by means of a canal and then deepening the river. It is also proposed to deepen the Missouri River and make it navigable to the three forks. The deepening of the Columbia River and many other smaller projects are being urged.'
In order to finance the enterprises it has been suggested that a permanent fund be created by the sale of bonds, so that the work may not be dependent on the will of each Congress. Because of the enormous cost involved, President Roosevelt has proposed that where the immediately abutting land is markedly benefited, the beneficiaries should pay a portion of the expenses. Unless the projects are properly safeguarded, the government will do the work, and a relatively few private parties will, as is too often the case, derive the benefits.
1 Some work on waterways has been done by the states. The most important of the state canals is the Erie Canal in New York, which is the connecting link between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. The state is at present engaged in deepening the canal.