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VIEWPOINT OF THE CONSERVATION COMMISSION
By George D. Pratt
COMMISSIONER GEORGE D. PRATT states his attitude regarding
(Print No. 198, Jan. 24, 1918.)
HAVE been asked to state my attitude regarding a bill intro
duced in the Senate to amend Article VII, §7 of the State Constitution, by providing that this section “shall not prevent
the use of lands in the Forest Preserve, or timber thereon, to supply fuel for domestic purposes; or for the construction of roads and trails necessary for protection against fire, and for ingress and egress."
For more than twenty years Article VII, 87 of the State Constitution, the safeguard of the State forests, has stood every test to which it has been possible to subject it. This is largely due to the fact that it is so clearly and positively worded as to be incapable of misconstruction. Such exceptions as are made to the general prohibitions of the section are in language that is positive and that state clearly just how far we may go.
A careful reading of this proposed amendment leads to the conclusion that the apparent objects are expressed so indefinitely as to leave far too wide a field of possible interpretation or application and that, in the absence of specific restrictions, a person might have a right under it to go upon State land, cut all the wood desired, open up and use any roads or trails, and in fact use the land in the Forest Preserve in various other ways without hindrance.
The first intent of this amendment is apparently to permit the removal from lands in the Forest Preserve of wood for household fuel purposes. Some time ago I stated that nothing in the present fuel shortage had altered the situation in the Forest Preserve with respect to available stumpage, and that people in all of the forest counties were able to get abundant supplies of fuel wood from privately owned land. In other words, the fuel situation in the Adirondacks is right where it has been for the past twenty years.
It is true, however, that a new situation is now arising because of the large purchases of additional land that are being made with the seven and one-half million dollars provided by the bond issue. Much of this land is purchased to protect the forest from destructive forms of lumbering and the consequent denudation of our watersheds.
In some cases it is acquired to consolidate the state's holdings into larger blocks. This must inevitably lead in many localities to a contraction of private holdings, and thus operate to make private wood less available and also higher in price.
I feel that no harm can result to the State forests if the Commission is given authority to sell wood for household fuel purposes, provided the authority is so definitely phrased that it can lead to no other cutting in the State forests. The amount taken would be utterly insignificant and, if properly selected, would benefit the forest rather than harm it. A proper amendment will thus relieve any possibility of future shortage of wood fuel in localities where the State is a large owner of land because of the consolidation of the State's holdings, while adhering absolutely to the traditional policy of permitting no lumbering in the Forest Preserve.
If confined within proper limits, an amendment that would provide for roads for ingress and egress to and from private lands would relieve the Commission from a difficult position. At the present time owners of private lands who seek to use those lands only in a manner consistent with proper principles of forest utilization are, in some instances, deprived of access to their lands unless a road is already in existence.
On the other hand, the miscellaneous opening of temporary lum bering roads would so endanger the State's tremendous investment in forest lands that, viewed from the standpoint of public interest, it would
seem desirable not to make any change in the situation at this time. Even in this position the private land owner is not deprived of any property because there is a large appropriation available out of which lands of this character may be acquired; and, thus, private land owners are afforded an opportunity of selling their lands to the State, provided they are willing to accept a reasonable price therefor.
There are some public highways which are a necessity, but at the present time a Constitutional amendment is pending in the legislature to take care of one highway; and inasmuch as the Constitutional Convention and the legislature have seen fit to handle the matter in this way it would seem a wise policy to handle the question of other highways in the same manner when the necessity for such highways arises.
ARE WE WILLING TO PAY THE PRICE?
B. A. Chandler, Assistant Professor of Forest Utilization, Cornell
GRICULTURE has gone thru much the same evolution that
forestry is going thru today. When our forefathers came to these shores there was so much timber that it was in the way,
and so much land that it was often cheaper to clear another piece as soon as one piece had worn out. The writer has surveyed many acres of timber and brush land in Maine where there are now old cellar holes and sod fences, showing signs of early farms which have long been abandoned and which will now hardly grow a pine tree. It has been a common practice in the southern Appalachians for so-called farmers to take up tracts of land, cultivate them as long as they responded to extensive method of cultivation, and then move to newly cleared areas. Many of the pastures of New England and New York have been pastured by one generation after another, until they have deteriorated, and in some sections washed away to bare rock. This is destructive agriculture and corresponds in every way to our present destructive lumbering.
Under conditions existing in the days of our forefathers, destructive agriculture was as far as we can see today economically sound. As long as there were rich agricultural soils which could be moved onto and put under cultivation cheaper than soil already being cultivated could be maintained, it was good economics to do so. The day of destructive agriculture came to an end when the best agricultural soils had been taken up. Instead of looking for other lands to move to, farmers began to study methods of maintaining soil fertility. Today, here in the east, this evolution has gone so far that the farmer who does not handle his land so as to maintain the fertility of his soil, and who is not grading up his dairy herd and otherwise keeping up his capital investment, is not only looked upon as “an old moss back", but is considered almost a menace to his community. In other words, the cost of maintaining the fertility of the soil is today an accepted item in the cost of raising crops. The public and not the farmer pays for maintaining soil fertility.