February 29 1936 – Utilization Through Preservation


  • February 28, 1936 – Utilization Through Preservation – A Talk Given With Motion Pictures to a Joint Meeting of the Burroughs Audubon Nature Club and the Genesee Fish and Game Association, I Rochester, N.W. By J. S. Apperson

We are often told that “conservation means utilization” and that it must serve a multiple purpose, including among other things, the cultivation of trees for harvesting and numerous so-called improving processes under “multiple purpose management.” This school of thought includes a large group of very active people whom we know as tame-forest-land advocates.

There is another group which agrees that tree cutting for consumption is important, but insists that these taming processes be restricted to certain paces and kinds of land. It also advocates another form of multiple utilization. That is, the use of forests to preserve water sources, to hold soil against erosion, to protect cover for wildlife, to provide wild-forest recreation for our large indoor population, and to preserve important resources for posterity. This second group reminds us that we once had luxuriant forests and abundance of game and fish, and that our experience proves that natural processes are best for the maintenance of these natural resources. We know this group as wild-forest-land advocates. It further points out that we now import a high per cent of both forest and agricultural products and, if necessary, could obtain outside of our State more of these necessities, but that it would be impossible to import water for our rivers, lakes, and municipal needs and therefore the preservation of water sources is of first importance. Thus we have vital utilization through preservation as contrasted with utilization for our crops and similar purposes.

While this important difference I the utilization of our forests was pointed out in the first report of the State Park Commission, 63 years ago, and recognized in our Constitution 41 years ago, the battle goes on between these two groups., while tree and soil destruction continues among the thinly covered precipitous slopes on the upper watersheds of our rivers as shown in the pictures to follow.

I am urged to point out some of the reasons not generally recognized for this difference of opinion, and I do so at the risk of being misunderstood.

A large percent of the public who visit the Adirondacks and Catskills do so while the leaves are out, and they get the impression that great forests cover these mountains, whereas in many instances only brush hides the lands, with little or no soil, and a normal forest will not develop for centuries.

Also, a high per cent of all educational work in the field of conservation is done directly or indirectly by the State Conservation Department, and we cannot, of course, expect them to tell us about the important things they have neglected to do or the things that are badly done. Our forestry and agricultural colleges are also dependent upon appropriations and support from various sources, and they have reasons for proceeding in a conventional manner. Our foresters are trained to value forests in board feet or stumpage and to carry on various processes to increase these values, and our wild forestlands are turned over to them to keep wild, which is contrary to their training. In general, our conservation organizations, outdoor clubs, and similar groups are anxious to maintain their membership and income and usually hesitate to consider subjects that may be made controversial and develop into strong differences of opinion. It is, therefore, quite natural that the good things accomplished in conservation are usually featured and only one side of the picture is understood. We are, of course, very happy over the creditable things that are done, but these are being made known through so many channels, including the publicity bureau of the Conservation Department, that further mentions seems superfluous.

In both lectures and literature, the term “silviculture” and “forestry” are often given prominence, but the terms that mean most to the public, “Tree-cutting operations” and “lumbering” are seldom used. Forest losses are given in millions of trees. Few people can translate one into the other quickly, and the impression is that our losses are small and our gains large, whereas the reverse is true.

We learn from the excellent report of our State Planning Board that 5,800,000 acres of land, once used, are no longer suitable for agriculture, and they recommend the State purchase 4,500,000 acres to be reforested.

Our most ambitious plan of reforestation, even if successful, requires 15 years for 1,000,000 acres, and we are told that about 100,000 additional acres have been accumulating each year. The total nursery output so far would plant approximately half this yearly accumulation. In other words, we start with about 70 years of work to do and each year additional work is piling up about twice as fast as our annual rate of accomplishment. It is, therefore, obvious that we will have to do a great deal more to encourage better land use I addition to loading up the taxpayer with the immense task of rehabilitating the large acreage now needing attention. During a period of 30 years we have burned 1,500,000 acres, and during the same period we have planted less than 1/3 this amount.

It is important to know that virtually all of our disastrous forest fires have followed tree-cutting operations, largely because of limbs and other debris left on the ground which generate such intense heat while burning that the best fire-fighting force with improved equipment and roads and trails is unable to cope with such conflagrations under adverse weather conditions.

In national forests and some state forests, and also in provinces of Canada, lands are protected by requiring the disposal of such dangerous material, but in this state the law requires brush disposal only back 20 feet from highways and 25 feet from railroads, and the lopping of tops. Last year the state spent $307,000 of the tax payer’s money for forest fire control. In 1934, 88 percent of the fires in the Adirondacks burned on private lands. Why the private landowner has been allowed to pile up such debris for all these years, endangering public welfare and his neighbors, without more action on the part of the state to prevent such disasters, is not easily explained. It is encouraging, however, to know even at this late date that the legislature will be asked to enact a much needed slash-disposal law. Experience has shown that slash can be disposed of at small expense and the added insurance on the property alone is thought to justify the extra effort. When the old top=lopping law was proposed about 25 years ago, it was said that the timber owner would have to go out of business because of the additional expense, but this small extra effort was soon forgotten. It stands to reason that if a slash disposal law is easily enforced and economically carried out in other parts of the country, it would be practical and very helpful to New York State.

One of the astonishing events in the field of conservation, in the light of our past experience, is the recommendation of the Committee on Rural Land Planning, contained in bulletin 21, dated September 1935, entitled “Future Policies for the Acquisition of Public Land,” and I quote:

“Experience in the Adirondack and Catskill areas has shown that the public acquisition of lands as they come on the market is a much cheaper way to acquire them than to seek to purchase particular areas or to acquire them by purchases should be made available until expended, that it, appropriations should be continuing or non-lapsing.”

Such procedure might be called a scheme to help the land owners dispose of their exhausted lands, but it could hardly be called plan to help the state as a whole. You will note the procedure recommended is not directed to the purchase of lands most needed to preserve water sources before they are devastated, or to stopping serious soil erosion, and is not based on the protection of famous landmarks before they are destroyed, or obtaining l and land most needed for recreation, or protecting wild life before the lands are damaged; but the lands are to be purchased when they become cheap, which, like many bargains, may not be cheap at any price. The state already has thousands of acres of such land, purchased after devastation, and some of it is so barren it cannot even be reforested. Why encourage further stripping and misuse of lands by providing such a ready market, and deplete available funds that should be used to purchase lands vitally needed to protect public welfare? While this state land-purchase procedure is plainly unsound and indefensible, it has been a bone of contention for many years and apparently there is no change in sight.