From The Passenger Pigeon in Pennsylvania
By John C. French
From Forest Lore and Observations
Conservation and Desolation
(Written by John C. French
The village of Ceres, New York, was located at the line between the states, upon Oswayo Creek; and at the south, in McKean County, Pennsylvania, lies the township of Ceres, through which flows King’s Run to join the Oswayo. The village and the township commemorate the name of the Ceres Company, which acquired nearly 300,000 acres of the Bingham lands, in Potter and McKean counties, Pennsylvania. Francis King located a mill for grinding grain and sawing lumber in 1798, near the confluence of the stream, on King’s Run, the beginning of developments in McKean County; and the forests were administrated conservatively, until 1872, the dawn of the hemlock era, in that part of the Allegheny watershed, when railroads had been completed into that section and tanneries built.
The Ceres Company’s lands were disposed of, during 87 years, and the Hemlock timber passed into control of the tanners, lumbermen and their financial allies, a few years later. From 1872, the boom expanded, for twenty years, as the riot of devastation continued unabated. Tanneries became more numerous and sawmills were improved and enlarged. Tramways penetrated the forest, over which the bark and the peeled logs were moved rapidly, in all seasons of the year. The water-power mills, of transitory efficiency, were augmented or supplanted by the more stable and reliable steam engine, and circular or rotary saws replaced the mulay and the sash-saw varieties. The hum of industry broke over the quiet valleys and the hills re-echoed with steam-whistle music, where, lately, had been heard only the solitary cry of the panther, the howling of the wolves, hooting of the owls, or the hunter’s rifle that broke the forest stillness.
Forest fires swept over the slashings and consumed the beech trees and other hardwoods. The animals fled and the pigeons became no more. The birds languished and the larvae of millers and bugs grew fat upon the hemlocks, and other trees. Cyclones laid the forest flat and the summer sun dried up the mountain brooks, until the trout abandoned them. The hunters and fishermen no more sought their prey in the forests; but degenerated in the softness of the dissipating sports they patronized. The elements and the flight of Time, augmented by the wastefulness of man, narrowed the forest, from year to year, until the denuded hills arose, in the grimness of desolation, like specters of a diseased imagination, to rebuke a wanton generation.
But there are compensating facts to comfort the guilty despoilers. They sought a livelihood in harvesting the ripe crop of hemlock, that Nature had planted and tended, against the time of need, and in developing our great nation, to add its wealth to that of the world and preserve the priceless gleam of Liberty, for humanity and truth. The hemlock industry furnished material for producing leather and for constructing comfortable homes, throughout the central and eastern states, at less cost than any other. It made a rich empire of a trackless forest, and supplied the necessary funds to improve the counties that have been created, to erect substantial public buildings, safe bridges and good roads; and it fostered a profitable and convenient home market for the products of agriculture. The industry provided inducements for constructing permanent and valuable railroads that will continue to benefit the entire Commonwealth in all future time.
Unreasoning sentimentalism prompts us to blame only the lumbermen and the tanners for the destruction of our beautiful forests, during the last forty years, while others are equally responsible for their sins of omission, in past decades, and which continue to blind many people. Preserving a forest should be a matter for a nation, state, county, city or township, to administer for the public and with public funds; because the benefit cannot be reduced to a per cent increment. There is beauty, health, climate, recreation and many other benefits, in which all should share to the fullest extent. Private enterprise cannot compete, over so long a period and broad a space. We should cultivate ten million acres of forest in the Keystone state – and do it now.
Forty-four years ago, the voice that was crying for forest legislation – Governor Hartranft – met with no response from the people. A dozen years passed away before the matter came up again, and a report to Governor Beaver was authorized, paving the way for legislation; but nothing came of it. Governor Pattison (1891-4) succeeded in getting favorable legislation for taxes. Governor Stone (1899), found that the state owned less the 20,000 acres of forest land, and in 1901, he succeeded in getting a favoring law, under which half a million acres were purchased, before his administration closed, in 1903. Under that law we soon had about a million acres of forest preserves. But recent additions have been of slight importance.
Hereafter, no administration should be approved of, that has failed to add to our forests a hundred thousand acres, by purchase and planting trees, until a magnificent total of ten million acres are under state control. In various counties, such unreasonable valuations for taxation have been made by the assessors and confirmed by the county commissioners, supported by the people, that owners of forest lands have been forced to cut and market the timber to avoid total confiscation of their estates. This did no tend toward the preservation of the forests, in private ownership, nor invite capital to reinvestment in renewing forests for another generation; but it did compel the investors to liquidate, as fast as possible, and to allow the denuded lands to be sold for taxes, or to the Commonwealth for forest renewal.