The Dangers of Forest Destruction
By George Pardee
What will most promote the greatness of our state is protecting our natural resources from needless destruction or waste.
And of all our resources there are none which stand more in need of safeguarding than our streams and forests.
A large part of California is semi-arid land, in which irrigation is either a necessity or an advantage; and over great areas of fertile soil the only measure of production is the measure of the water which is available.
The relationship between streams and forests is an intimate one: The former are best guarded by protecting the latter.
Our forests are our great natural reservoirs. Where the mountainsides are clothed with abundant forests, which delay the run-off of the winter rains, the need for artificial reservoirs is not great. It is claimed, too, that the amount of our annual rainfall has steadily diminished as our mountains have been denuded of their forests.
Our national government has created a series of forest reserves that will protect forever the headwaters of numerous streams flowing into the San Joaquin and other valleys. But there are millions of acres of timber lying outside the forest reserves. Recently the title to these lands has been passing from the government of the United States to private parties with a rapidity that has excited justifiable alarm.
The rapid passage from public to private ownership of the forests of California which are not included in the forest reserves will be looked upon with misgiving by every thoughtful person because it is hardly probable that private interests will tend to such use of the forests as will long insure their preservation.
And though, from the legal standpoint, this is a federal question, the state has a deep interest in its solution. During several sessions, the Secretary of the Interior has appealed to Congress, though, so far, without success, to change the laws which make it so fatally easy for corporations and speculators to acquire the ownership of the forests.
But worse than the rapid cutting of our timber is the utter want of care for the protection of the second growth.
Dead and fallen timber, stripped bark and limbs, rejected butts and tops are allowed to lie where they fall. In a short while the ground, exposed to the sun, is covered with a new growth of tiny trees, which, if allowed to grow, would, in half a score of years, cover again with grateful shade the land upon which the rains of winter fall.
And thus our streams would still retain the slowly-fed sources of their summer fullness.
But, ere this second growth can gain a development that makes it a protection to the thirsty soil, ere it can become sturdy enough to fight its own way, the fallen débris left by the timber-cutter is swept by mountain fires and the little trees are killed before they have the opportunity to do the work that Nature designed them for.
And, in the place of the cool, damp depths of forest-shaded mountain sides, holding, like sponges, the rains of winter, to give them slowly up in spring and summer to the mountain streams and rivers of the plains—in place of this, we have bare, baked mountain sides, gashed and gullied by the winter torrents, which thus run riot and are lost to those who need them most in the heat and dryness of succeeding summer.
Not only so, but in half a century this second growth, having done its work during these years, would, if permitted to exist, itself again become a source of wealth.
And thus our friends, the trees, serve a double purpose to our growing wants.
George Pardee, a Republican, is California’s 21st governor. He served from January 8, 1903 to January 8, 1907. The Board of Forestry he created in 1905 is the forerunner of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, now called CalFire. This is excerpted from his inaugural address.
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