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Report of the Secretary of Agriculture
Southern Appalachian and White Mountain Watersheds.
The agricultural appropriation bill approved March 4, 1907, requires the Secretary of Agriculture to investigate the watersheds of the Southern Appalachian and White Mountains "and to report to Congress the area and natural conditions of said watersheds, the price at which the same can be purchased by the Government, and the advisability of the Government purchasing and setting apart the same as national forest reserves for the purpose of conserving and regulating the water supply and flow of said streams in the interest of agriculture, water power, and navigation."
I have endeavored to have completed all investigations necessary to give Congress the information desired.
Each one of the several problems involved has been handled by the most competent men whose services could be secured. The Forest Service detailed to the work several of its most experienced experts. The Bureau of Soils, after careful field study, has submitted information on soils and agricultural possibilities of the Southern Appalachian region. The Geological Survey of the Interior Department has made available the results of seven years of investigation of water power and navigation conditions of Southern Appalachian streams. Desirous of securing the most competent authority on every phase of the question, I have gone outside of the Government service to secure from Prof. L. C. Glenn, of Vanderbilt University, of Nashville, Tenn., the results of a three years' study of soil erosion in the Southern Appalachians, and from Mr. Philip W. Ayres, of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, a report on the commercial importance of the White Mountains.
Approaching their subjects from different points of view, these men without a single exception have arrived at results which lead irresistibly to these conclusions, namely, that the Southern Appalachians and White Mountains are of vast commercial importance to the industries of the country; that the good or evil influence of these regions in an unusual degree depends upon the treatment given them, and that both are encountering well-advanced destructive influences, which, unchecked, will bring widespread devastation to the regions themselves and ruin to many of the industries of this country.
Therefore, in this report I desire to repeat and strongly emphasize my recommendation of six years ago, that the National Government undertake the purchase of a definite portion of these mountain forest lands, in order that they may, through use as national forests, be protected and improved. My former recommendation applied only to the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains. I am convinced now that the Government should extend its purchases to the Southern Allegheny and the Cumberland Mountains and to the White Mountains also.
A great opportunity presented itself to the Government in the purchase of these lands seven or eight years ago. The influences which are destroying the mountains were not then so far advanced. Virgin hardwood timber lands existed in large areas and could have been bought at from $1 to $5 per acre. Within the past eight years we have crossed the threshold of a hardwood timber famine, and in consequence the prices of such virgin hardwood lands as remain have advanced from 300 to 500 per cent.
It will be the wisest course under present conditions for the Government to purchase cut-over rather than virgin lands. Even cutover lands with no prospect of a timber crop inside of ten or twenty years will cost as much now as virgin lands ready for the saw would have cost eight years ago. Barren and eroded lands, of which there is a greater area now, will cost no more to-day than in the past. But considering the expense of planting timber on them and the time before returns can be secured they become the most costly class of lands that can be purchased.
That the two regions under consideration are advancing toward a condition of barrenness and sterility is the conclusion of every man who has had a part in this investigation. I do not refer to the loss merely of commercial timber. I mean absolute barrenness and sterility without timber, without undergrowth, without soil. In 1896 Prof. N. S. Shaler, of Harvard University, said:
South of Pennsylvania there is, according to my reckoning based on observations in every State in that upland country, an aggregate area of not less than 3,000 square miles where the soil has been destroyed by the complete removal of the woods and the consequent passage of the earthy matter to the lowlands and to the sea. At the rate at which this process is now going on the loss in arable and forestable land may fairly be reckoned at not less than 100 square miles per annum. In other words, we are each year losing to the uses of man, through unnecessary destruction, a productive capacity which may be estimated as sufficient to sustain a population of a thousand people.
This rate has not only been kept up; it has been greatly accelerated. Faster than was considered possible eleven years ago these regions, through injudicious cutting, fires, clearing, and general misappropriation, are moving toward a forestless, soilless condition.
If we wait till forest and soil are gone before beginning a sound policy of handling these mountains, we shall invite the bitter experience of France, who at infinite pains and an expenditure of $40,000,000 is endeavoring to restore both soil and forest to her mountains after a course of destruction such as ours at present.
How the destruction of the Appalachian forests, north and south, means far-reaching damage to the country is pointed out in this report. The Appalachians must be almost the sole dependence for the nation's future hardwood supply. If this supply fails, the hardwood-using industries of the country must fail, and the entire