January 1936 – Publication – Man Made Erosion in the Adirondacks

  • January 1936 – Man-Made Erosion in the Adirondacks – Editorial comment in Forest Leaf, official organ of the Pennsylvania Forestry Association, January, 1936.

“Following the business meeting, a very interesting and instructive talk was given by Mr. J. S. Apperson, president of the Forest Preserve Association of New York State. The title of the talk was “Man-made Erosion in the Adirondacks.” His words were supplemented by unusually fine motion pictures, which had been taken by Mr. Apperson, showing the results of unwise logging and inefficient management of forestlands. Particularly impressive were the pictures showing the start and development of erosion after timber had been cut off precipitous slopes. It was the unanimous opinion of the members present that the talk was unusually well presented and of great merit.”

Our pride in New York State is often stimulated by statements that we are ahead of other states in conservation. It is true that many creditable things have been done in our state, but when we compare our accomplishments with our losses, we wonder how we could be so well satisfied.

During a period of 30 years, we have burned more than one and a half million acres. Many of our disastrous fires have swept the high peak regions at the sources of our rivers, consuming soil down to bare rock in many places, making reforestation impossible, and deferring the time of recovery for hundreds of years.

It is more generally understood now that preserving the lands affecting our water sources is of first importance, since we cannot import water for our streams and lakes and municipal needs, be we can import and do now receive, a large percent of our farm products from sources outside our State.

Recent official figures also show that 5,800,000 acres of land in New York State, once fertile and productive, are now classed as abandoned, sub-marginal or non-productive in 38 counties.

While there are a number of factors influencing these conditions, soil erosion and soil exhaustion are outstanding, since they were avoidable. Ways to prevent both are now being made clear to the landowner by the excellent work of the Federal Soil Erosion Department. Why this important educational work has not been done before is a pertinent question, since good and bad practice in land utilization for both agriculture and forestry have been known for many years.

Unlike all other states, New York has attempted to protect its thinly clad precipitous lands on the upper watersheds of its rivers with a provision in its constitution requiring that such wild lands, belonging to the State, be forever kept as wild forest lands. This form of utilization is found to fulfill the highest multiple purposes for the State as a whole, that is, the preservation of water sources, the protection of cover for wild life, and the maintenance of a wild forest recreational area for its large indoor population, and at the same time the preservation of these important resources for posterity. This is vital utilization through forest preservation as contrasted with another form of utilization, namely, tree cutting for consumption.

This important difference in forestry principles was recognized 63 years ago in the first annual report of the Commissioner of New York State Parks. Unfortunately, this protection applies only to lands owned by the State in the Adirondack and Catskill Mountain regions and does not affect the flood waters of the Susquehanna and Allegheny Rivers (and only slightly the Delaware) rising in our State, but flowing through Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Had the soil-holding forests on the more precipitous slopes on the watersheds of these streams been retained, the damage from floods, cost of dredging, and inconvenience to navigation would no doubt have ben relatively small and our neighbors, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, would have been greatly benefitted. A large b=number of trees are now being planted on the upper watersheds of these interstate streams, but when translated into acres and compare with the area needing reforestation, the percent is pathetically small.

It seems obvious that if we hope to protect all of our water sources, we must obtain more generous Federal aid and recognize that a logical division of future land protection by reforestation in New York State would be between State and interstate streams: the upper watersheds of the Allegheny, Susquehanna, and part of the Delaware affecting Pennsylvania and New Jersey to be protected by the Federal Government in co-operation with New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

There is, of course, nothing particularly new in this thought, but there are more data now than ever before to support the statement that this plan is necessary for any reasonable degree of success.