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Tree farming in America


HENRY CLEPPER is director of the American Forestry History Project sponsored by the Forest History Society, an affiliate of Yale University.

GIFFORD PINCHOT, the first professional forester of the United States, was the leader in the forest conservation movement during the early 1900s. The principal architect of the national forest system, now totaling 182 million acres (74 million hectares) in 43 states, Mr. Pinchot maintained that in them lay the country's security against timber shortage.

Sixty years ago, fears of a wood deficit were voiced in the United States Congress, in state legislatures, in scientific circles, in the press and national magazines, and indeed in all kinds of gatherings where thinking people discussed current events. At the White House Conference of Governors in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt shocked his audience by declaring: "We are on the verge of a timber famine in this country, and it is unpardonable for the Nation or the states to permit any further cutting of our timber save in accordance with a system which will provide that the next generation shall see the timber increased instead of diminished."

Destructive logging by lumber companies was causing much of the forest devastation. But it was not the sole cause. Losses by fire, and almost to an equal volume by the disease and insect attacks that usually followed lumber operations, were taking a frightful toll.

The year 1910, for example, was a year of disastrous holocausts that swept through the nation's woodlands, most ruinously in the north central and western states. In Minnesota during that terrible summer 42 persons died, hundreds were made homeless, and 300,000 acres (120,000 hectares) of woods were burned. In the forests of Idaho and Montana 85 fire fighters, homesteaders, and prospectors died in the conflagration. Whole towns were wiped out. A million and a half hectares burned and 8,000 million board feet (36 million cubic meters) of timber were lost.

Such disasters had been recurring for a century. But now citizens were shaken. Editors, legislators, and educators were aroused. They in turn aroused the public to the enormity of waste of a valuable natural resource. For fire was not only depleting the nation's forest wealth; it was bringing about conditions contributing to soil erosion, the siltation of streams, and floods.

During that era the national forests were provided with the most efficient fire protection then available.

Several states, notably New York, Pennsylvania and a few others, had organizations to detect and combat woods fires. But the nation's forests were for the most part criminally neglected, inadequately protected and badly managed.

To be sure reforestation had captured the public imagination as a conservation measure; millions of tree seedlings, grown mostly in publicly operated nurseries, were planted annually on burned-over and cleared woodland and on abandoned farms. But the twin curses of destructive logging and fire continued to blight the land.

Following the first world war a few lumber companies, railroad companies, and mining companies began to employ foresters to manage their forest holdings. In general and considered on the basis of national needs, their efforts were sporadic and scattered. Although there were notable exceptions, neither the states nor the forest industries were fulfilling their responsibility to replace the timber resource which was being exploited to the detriment of the social and economic welfare.

Forestry gains new vitality

With the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt there followed an upsurge of conservation programs. Typical of these was the Civilian Conservation Corps, together with Congressional legislation that provided for improved federal-state co-operation, particularly in fire control, reforestation, and acquisition of state forests. Although during the 1930s the forest products industries were in poor economic condition, they began gradually to improve the management of their properties.

Because the application of scientific forestry by private owners was so hesitant and infrequent, a small but vocal body of public opinion began to demand regulatory control by government of private forest management. In this proposal F.A. Silcox, then chief of the United States Forest Service, was supported by Mr. Pinchot and other influential spokesmen, such as Henry S. Graves, dean of the Yale University School of Forestry. They proposed that private - meaning industrial - forest regulation be enforced by the federal government, or by the federal and state governments jointly. According to the proponents of regulation, the public for its own protection had the obligation to prohibit by law destructive cutting.

A storm of controversy arose over this issue of forest regulation. Temporarily, the result was bad; it divided the professional foresters and confused the lay conservationists. But from the long-term view, the result was beneficial. For the war-induced pressure on the timber resource made both industry and government realize that the application of modern silviculture on the nation's commercial forest lands was essential if this resource was to contribute its share -to the country's prosperity and defense.

To the threat of restrictive legislation by Congress was coupled the dawning realization by industry that good forestry is financially profitable. Thus private owners were induced to undertake new programs to restore depleted and cut-over lands to productivity, and to harvest with minimum waste timber stands scheduled for logging. Led by the big paper companies, industry began buying up cut-over properties for reforestation. Pulpwood trees, which could profitably be grown as a crop in 20 to 30 years in the southern region of the United States, were designated by some owners as "green gold."

The impact of tree farming

Then in 1941 occurred an event that was to be decisive in influencing the course of American forestry. This event is nothing less than the greatest forest-growing enterprise ever undertaken by private landowners of any nation, any time, any; where, in the world.

Known as the American Tree Farm Program, its object, is as simple as it is direct - to grow trees as a crop on private lands dedicated to this purpose. A tree farm is simply a taxpaying property committed to the continuous production of forest crops and protected from fire, insects, and disease.

The State of Washington in the Pacific Northwest became the first tree farm state in 1941. During the following year Alabama, Arkansas, California, and Oregon joined the program. From one tree farm of 120,000 acres (48,500 hectares) in 1941, the movement grew to 3,500 tree farms comprising 25 million acres (10 million hectares) in 34 states ten years later.

Currently, 70 million acres (28 million hectares) are certified as tree farms by American Forest Products Industries, Inc., of Washington D.C., the sponsoring organization for this voluntary movement. The number of tree farmers exceeds 31,000. Forty-eight states (all except Alaska and Hawaii) participate in the program.

Mississippi leads with 3,700 tree farms; Alabama follows with 2,600; Georgia has 2,400; Louisiana, 1,800; and Texas, 1,700. These figures reflect the new interest throughout the southern states in growing trees for profit. On tens of thousands of acres of southern farmland, pines are now a more profitable crop than cotton.

In tree farm area, Georgia and Alabama lead with more than 7 million acres each (2.8 million hectares).

Florida has 6.6 million (2.7 million hectares); Oregon has 5 million (2 million hectares); and Arkansas, Louisiana, and Washington have more than 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) each.

How and where tree farming began

More than a century ago, Alexis de Tocqueville, the French author of Democracy in America, wrote: "I have often admired the extreme skill with which the inhabitants of the United States succeed in proposing a common object to the exertions of a great many men, and inducing them voluntarily to pursue it". So it has been with the voluntary tree farm movement, an indigenous American phenomenon whose origin is rooted deep in the traditions of free enterprise.

The United States Government early took leadership in conservation because it recognized a public need. No less importantly, if belatedly, industry rose to its responsibility to meet a national emergency. The manner of tree farming's birth and growth makes an extraordinary record, all the more interesting because it developed without, government support.

The story begins back in the 1880s. Then loggers started felling the virgin stands of Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and western red cedar in Grays Harbor County, Washington. It took them 50 years to harvest the original forest. As the loggers advanced with ax and saw, and passed on, in their wake nature restocked the soil with seedlings which developed into new stands of second growth.

FIGURE 2. - In 1941 the timber on the Clemons tree farm had been logged off, the slash had been burned, and the land was beginning to regenerate itself.

NOTE. - Figures 2, 3 and 4 are of an, identical area on the Clemons tree farm in the State of Washington.

By 1939 the Clemons tract, for example, had been logged over. Owned by the Weyerhaeuser Company, this property of 120,000 acres (48,500 hectares) showed such favorable regenerative prospects that the company decided to utilize it for intensive research in tree reproduction and growth. In short, it was to be a pilot project whose results would guide the future management of all the company's extensive holdings.

It was one thing to devote the property to a new and special type of land management. It was quite another matter to obtain public understanding for a radical shift in corporate policy. Public support was essential to the success of the plan because a second growth forest is vulnerable to fire. Carelessness with fire by hunters and fishermen, and woodburning whether touched off deliberately or accidentally by forest users, would always be a threat jeopardizing the success of the experiment.

Facing the company was a dilemma: how to inform neighboring property owners and the public that this cut-over tract was not valueless wasteland growing up to worthless brush, but a managed forest under scientific silviculture ? Considerable corporate financial investment was made in lookout towers and telephone lines for fire detection, in roads and trails for access by fire trucks, in tree planting, and in water supplies for fire control. Since public understanding was necessary for fire prevention, and since fire prevention was necessary for the success of the project, a name was needed to attract popular appreciation, and support.

FIGURE 3. - In 1951 the Clemons tree farm, under organized protection from fire, was clothed with a dense growth of young Douglas fir trees.

Accordingly, the name tree farm was adopted because the public would instinctively think of a tree farm as land where trees are grown as a crop, and give such land the same respect customarily given land growing the usual agricultural crops.

And so the Clemons tree farm, the first in America, was established in June 1941.

How the program is administered

Although American Forest Products Industries, Inc.1 sponsors the program nationally, its direction in each state is by a state-wide committee representative of forest industry and forestry interests. Thus the system is administered locally with standards for certification set by each committee to meet the particular requirements of tree growing, protection, and harvesting for that state or region.

1AFPI'S address is 1835 K Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006, United States of America. Information on tree farming may be obtained by writing direct to this address.

FIGURE 4. - In 1966 the area was almost unrecognizable from the first view of it photographed 15 years earlier. It will be ready for harvest in another half-century.

FIGURE 5. - The tree farm sign an emblem of good forestry on private land. Some 31,000 signs such as this one dot the American countryside. A tree farmer (left) gets advice from a forester.

A landowner may become a certified tree farmer in one of two ways. He may apply to the state committee for an examination of his property, and get a certificate if it meets the qualifications. Or if his property is one that is known by a local forester-inspector to be well managed in accordance with tree farm standards, the owner may be invited to apply for an inspection leading to certification.

Every tract is inspected by a forester prior to certification, and is reinspected periodically as to compliance with the standards. Hundreds have had their certificates canceled for improper cutting or for failure to protect the stand from fire, insects, disease, or injurious grazing by cattle.

The author can confirm from his own knowledge of the movement, gained by personal association with it over the past quarter century, that the overwhelming majority of tree farmers are making an honest attempt to practice good forest management. And the movement marches on with an average of more than 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) added each year.

Indeed, the intensity of silviculture now applied to millions of acres of industrial holdings is equal in quality to that of the national forests. As the present chief of the Forest Service, Edward P. Cliff, has stated: "The American tree farm system sponsored by forest industries has made a real contribution in meeting the great need to stimulate interest on the part of private forest landowners in doing a better management job on their own lands."

Samuel T. Dana, dean emeritus of the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources, is the doyen of the forestry profession and an authority on American forestry policy. His appraisal of the development of private forestry, as exemplified by the tree farm system, is pertinent: ''Enlightened self-interest, rather than public compulsion or private altruism, is basically responsible for the upsurge of interest on the part of private owners who have previously regarded it as impracticable. A more favorable economic climate resulting from higher stumpage prices and improved technology in the use of wood are primarily responsible for the change."

Proof that private forestry has indeed advanced may also be found in the statistics of employment of professional foresters III America: in federal service there are approximately 8,000. The number in industry and related private work is about the same.

Their importance as a timber resource

Two classes of forest land are recognized in statistics of United States timber resources - commercial and noncommercial. Noncommercial lands have little or no possibility for timber production. These are the lands that are either unsuited by reason of climate or terrain to the growing of merchantable trees, or are reserved, such as national parks and wilderness areas. Three fourths of the country's forest land is classified as commercial and one fourth as noncommercial.

According to the Forest Service, commercial forest land in the United States including coastal Alaska totals 508.8 million acres (206 million hectares). This is the timber estate to which America must look for its future supplies of forest products.

Of this priceless domain, 366.9 million acres (148.5 million hectares) are in private ownership. The remaining 141.9 million acres (57.4 million hectares) are in public ownership, principally in national and state forests and other woodlands under the jurisdiction of federal, state, and county agencies.

Earlier it was pointed out that the tree farm system totals 70 million acres (28 million hectares). Some conception of the vastness of 70 million acres may be had from the fact that, of all the privately owned commercial forest land, nearly 19 percent is in tree farms. Because they have the capacity to produce permanent timber crops and are dedicated to such production, they are of incalculable economic importance to the welfare and security of the nation.

Economic benefits

To return for a moment to the Clemons tract in Washington, it will be remembered that it was the first certified tree farm in America. The Douglas fir seedlings that sprang up following logging in the 1930s are now upward of 100 feet (30 meters) tall. Of saw-timber quality, these trees will be ready for harvest in another decade. Cutting will continue through the year 2000 and beyond.

Wood production, however, is not the only benefit of this and other tree farms. As all foresters know, silviculture is a technique that can be used to increase water yield from watersheds. An extensive road system, developed for forestry work and to make all sections of the forest quickly accessible to fire fighting forces, also opens the property for recreational use, thereby creating more recreation potential and more outdoor opportunity. Felling operations form openings in the forest canopy. Increased sunlight in the clearings stimulates the growth of plants on which deer browse, hence deer populations are now higher than ever. In general, wildlife species of most kinds benefit from thinnings and selection cuttings because of improved habitat, making for more food and better cover.

Many kinds of tree farm owners

Indicative of the spreading interest in increasing land productivity by growing trees is the diversity of tree farm ownership. To be sure, a sizable acreage is held by corporate owners - lumber, mining, paper, plywood, water supply, and railroad companies. Such participation, it should be noted, is evidence of industry's transition from the old cut-out-and-get-out attitude, so bitterly criticized by Gifford Pinchot, to a policy of permanent, sustained-yield management.

Significantly, most of the tree farms are in small ownerships - of farmers, ranchers, Christmas tree growers, and city dwellers who through their tree farms have a stake in the land, in rural America. Some are tracts newly purchased for this purpose; as are tree farms acquired by physicians, bankers, and lawyers.

Others are properties that have been in the same family for generations. The first tree farm in Massachusetts, dedicated in 1948, is the Robert H. Lawton farm woods in Worcester County in the Connecticut River Valley, 740 acres (300 hectares) of mostly white pine and hemlock that have been in the family for two hundred years.

FIGURE 6. - Reforestation on. an industrial tree farm. A two-man crew operating this tractor and tree planting machine can set out 15,000 seedlings a day, reforesting from 10 to 15 acres (4 to 6 hectares).

If a property meets the standards for certification, it may be a three-acre (1.2-hectare) shelterbelt growing fence posts in North Dakota; a 20-acre (8-hectare) sugar bush in Vermont; a 200-acre (90-hectare) farm woodlot in Tennessee; a 1,000-acre (400-hectare) Christmas tree operation in Minnesota; or a 500,000-acre (200,000-hectare) industrial holding. It may be a young coniferous plantation under protection for future use. Or it may be the operating forest of a paper company with carefully planned logging under the selection system of management, followed by either natural reseeding or artificial reforestation, or a combination of both.

Results summarized

By any criterion, a sober evaluation of the tree farm program shows that it is accomplishing its major objective; that is, to encourage woodland owners to practice improved management by public recognition of their work. Its success is attested by the steady increase in the number certified.

Although the program is privately financed and administered, it is deserving of public recognition because it is also in the public interest. Consider just one example.

FIGURE 7. - Aspen pulpwood from a tree farm in Minnesota. In the Lake States (Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) aspen, formerly a species of limited commercial value, now provides one third of this region's annual pulpwood harvest.

Nowhere in America is forest land diminishing by the encroachment of urbanization as rapidly as in the New England and Middle Atlantic states. In consequence, as population pressure mounts so rises the demand for the products and services of the forest: not only for lumber, plywood, paper and paper products, 'but also for fish and game, open space for recreation, and water - above all, water. Tree farms are helping supply a portion of these consumer needs, and will supply more as their number and acreage expand.

If this movement had nothing else to its credit, it would still be a notable contribution to the conservation of America's forest resources. For it has been a major force in restoring the nation's forests to a condition of productivity, a condition in which more timber and wood fiber are now being grown than are being harvested and lost to fire, insects, and disease. Furthermore, most tree farms are under multiple-use management; that is, they provide improved wildlife habitat, watershed protection, and outdoor recreation as well as timber.

In truth, the green and white tree farm sign so frequently seen along the highway is now the symbol of another historic advance during this century in the conservation of a priceless natural resource.

Tree farming's worldwide possibilities

Tree farming in the United States is a movement sponsored by a central organization of the forest products industries. But although American in conception it has truly international potentialities.

A tree farm program could be put into operation in almost any country that, has a developing or developed forest policy. It could 'be sponsored by industry, as in America. But it could be sponsored also with prospect of success by government, by a trade association, or by a forestry society - working either singly or co-operatively.

In brief, tree farming has possibilities for improving the practice of forestry arid the economic benefits from forest land wherever private owners can be induced to manage their timber stands in accordance with silvicultural standards.

It is not a quick cure for the evils of long periods of forest misuse. And it cannot produce instant profits from woodland lacking merchantable growing stock. But over a reasonable length of time, tree farming, properly applied, can build up the economic wealth of individual timber owners as well as of nations.

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