National Geographic : 1946 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine Across the creekisaburn which tells an even sadder story.Afire fighter, returning from extinguishingasmall lightning fire, failed to heed the rules oftheforest, lighted a cigarette, threw down aburning match, and started one of thebiggest fires inthis area. I recall those burned-over acres which spoiled part of myview during mysecond summer-ugly scars, wasted timber, now highly inflammable material forlightning fires which could destroythe young trees there and quickly spread to mature trees. Almost every forest one enters bears these pathetic, silent, ghostlike, black or gray evidences ofwhat man has done to Nature.For man isresponsible for most of these graveyards. "Nine out of everyten fires areman-made. Smoking, camping,debris-burning, logging operations, incendiarism, and lightning are among the chief causes offorest fires. In a recent five-year period 7.6percent ofall fires recorded werecaused by lightning, and the remaining 92.4 percent were man-caused. "Orie-half of all fires inthenational forests are started by careless campers who build their campfires too large orleave them without being sure that all the sparks areout." During the five-year period ending in1944, studies were made ofthe fires inallprotected forests. State and private lands were included in this study, as well asnational forests. Of a total of some 418,000 fires, 9.3percent were started by lightning;15.5 percent by debris burning; 23.2 percent bysmokers; 26.5 per cent by incendiarists. Inother words, sofar as number of fires isconcerned, smokers and incendiarists were about equally criminal! Have we considered what these destructive fires mean to the public? They destroy scenic beauty and the playgrounds ofthemillions of Americans who visit ourforests annually. They destroy forested watersheds which minimize floods and soilerosion and which protect the water supply ofhundreds ofcities, of power plants, and ofirrigated farms (half the farms of 11 western States areirrigated). They burn the forage ofthousands ofdo mestic animals, thehomes ofwild creatures, and hundreds of animals themselves. They destroy the source of amultitude ofproducts, from golf tees and ball bats to95percent of our furniture and 80percent ofourhouses, and the source of anincreasing number of chemically made products aswidely different ascattle feed, rayon, photographic film, and plastics. This lastlistwillgradually become longer, forscientists arechallenged bythe factthat at present from 50to70percent ofatreeis wasted inthewoods andinthemills. Forests Help Our Daily Living Directly orindirectly, forests contribute to every aspect ofoureveryday living. They furnish us with shelter, water, food, clothing, fuel, electric power, newsprint, entertainment, andesthetic enjoyment. AsIwrite, aterrifying anddevastating fireisroaring through nearly 267,000 acres offorest inwestern Oregon. Inthesame area, in1933, afireinsome ofthebest timber intheState destroyed asmuch ashadbeen cutinthewhole United States in1932! The estimated financial losstoindustry andtothepublic was$350,000,000. We aresteadily reducing virgin forests, and"second-growth forests arebeing cutandburned almost asfastasthey grow." We allow 75to80million acres oftimber-growing land tolieidleasaresult ofcutting andburning. Attherate wewere proceeding in1941, itwould take us anestimated 22years tocom plete thereplanting needed inournational forests alone. Many owners oflands inneed ofplanting arenotreplanting atall.Allprograms ofreforestation were seriously retarded bythe war, atthesame time that cutting hadtobeincreased greatly. Three summers have notmade meanauthority onforestry. Ihave merely observed, listened, andread inthoughtful solitude twelve pamphlets published bythe Forest Service oftheDepartment ofAgriculture. Ihave become aware ofanurgent domestic problem. Toonewho hasspent 25weeks looking outupon thegreen beauty ofthree forested areas andupon denuded spots which should begreen, itseems clear that weneed aNation-wide program forourforests, forboth thepublicly owned andtheprivately owned-a long-range program offorest protection, restoration, anddevelopment. We need toprevent 92percent ofourforest fires. We need more, notfewer, forests asluxuriant andbeautiful asthewooded slopes andvalleys, likedark green waves ofadark green sea,which liebetween Steamboat Look outandMount Rainier. INDEX FOR JANUARY-JUNE, 1946, VOLUME READY Index for Volume LXXXIX (January-June, 1946) oftheNATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE will bemailed tomembers who bind their copies asworks ofreference.