National Geographic : 1897 Jun
THE NATIONAL FOREST RESERVES States must therefore continue to be a great landowner, unless the lands are disposed of wholesale to states or to corporations. The unoccupied lands are now open, furnishing free pasturage to all persons who have cattle, horses, sheep, or goats, and the woodlands are almost equally free to be cut and burned by set tlers. A few restrictions have been imposed with the intention of preventing the wholesale depredations of the forests by lumber companies, but these have in the main been ineffective, the great companies being able to cut almost without limit. The question may be asked, Why should not the government allow every one to take what lumber he desires, as in the case of the mineral wealth, where mines, when found and operated, be come the property of the discoverers, irrespective of their value? The radical difference between these two sources of wealth lies in provision for the future. In the case of mining, ordinarily no amount of foresight will increase the quantity of mineral avail able for the next generation, but with the forests the reverse is the case. It has been argued by men familiar with the subject that as matters are now proceeding the timber supply in many localities will be entirely destroyed within a half generation, while with a moderate exercise of prudence the supplies may be made practically continuous, guaranteeing the perpetuity of many industries. As owners of the forests, the people of the United States should, from motives of prudence, see that these resources are not wasted, and still more, as owners of vast tracts of land dependent for utilization to a greater or less degree upon the forests, should they make most strenuous exertions to in definitely preserve the latter. But it may further be asked whether any special steps need be taken to preserve the forests. Will not the local and indi vidual interests be sufficient to guard against waste ? Theoret ically this may be possible, but the experience of mankind in the old world and in this has shown that individual and present profits are as a rule placed far above public and remote interests. In other words, while the farmer usually needs no interference or urging in maintaining the fertility of his wheat field and adopting methods that will secure the largest crop each year, he does require some strong incentive to maintain forests or wood lands in which he is but a small owner and from which the crop may be cut only once in a generation. An agency of longer life than that of ordinary men is needed to sustain the work of forest production-such an agency, in short, as is the state or nation.