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The American tree-farm movement


NOW, perhaps more than ever before in the world's history, nations are taking stock of their natural resources. This is especially true in the United States. With the world's costliest war behind it and the country already committed to a long-range program of world rehabilitation, it is time that Americans looked at their natural resources with an eye to the future.

A heavy stand of second-growth Douglas fir on the Clemons Tree Farm, state of Washington, where the tree-farm idea originated. A tree-farm employee, with a hose-equipped fire truck, stands on an old logging railroad grade which has been converted into a forest road.

Fortunately, wood is the one great natural resource that replaces itself. Land that produces timber will grow more timber. The -process has been going on since the beginning of time but, all too frequently, it has had too little co-operation from man.

Realization of this fact germinated the American tree-farm system, which has become a potent factor in forest thinking in this country.

On the Pacific coast of Washington state is Grays Harbor county, in the heart of the Douglas fir region. There, about 1940, the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company undertook an intensive program of reforestation on cut-over lands, some of which had been logged in the 1890s. This area, something over 100,000 acres (40,000 ha), was in varying stages of new growth. Much of it contained vigorous stands of second growth; much was still denuded as result of heavy logging followed by forest fires.

The project involved an intensive fire-control system, a planting schedule, and intensive management of the whole area. Fire towers were erected. Old railway logging grades were put into shape for trucks. More roads and trails were built. Telephone and radio communication was developed. Specially designed pumper trucks and other fire fighting equipment were built. Water sources were developed. The initial outlay included, among other things, construction of 170 miles (270 km) of roadway, stringing of 90 miles (140 km) of telephone lines, and the erection of four lookout towers.

Fire control

The financial success of this long-range investment was threatened by one primary risk - forest fire. The company had estimated that fire losses could not exceed more than one quarter of 1 percent a year, over the growing-harvesting cycle. This was a low loss-factor for the area, and control of fire depended upon more than the fire control system. It depended upon the attitude of the area's neighbors.

These neighbors were various. For years, fishermen, hunters, picnickers, berry pickers, and others had roamed the area. Too often, they regarded logged-off land as valueless, and new forest growth as too worthless to consider. So, too often, carelessness resulted in fire. Other neighbors included ranchers, some living within the area, who habitually thought of timber in terms of virgin trees, and not in terms of second growth.

Here was a problem in human relations. It was a problem of explaining, in a practical way, what a reforestation project of this type meant to the whole community in terms of future employment, industrial development, and recreation.

Then it was that the term "tree farm" was coined. Such expressions as " reforestation project " were dropped, and the area was named the Clemons Tree Farm, honoring a pioneer logger of the region. When the governor of the state, with other officials, dedicated it formally, it become America's first tree farm.

Not that growing trees according to a management plan was new. But the name, and the program of publicity which promoted it, were new. The idea caught on quickly. The idea of purposeful growing of trees as an agricultural crop had public appeal. Hundreds of people visited the Clemons Tree Farm the first season, with a constant stream of more visitors since. It became a local attraction. Callers came and went away impressed with the fact that timber really is a crop. In a country accustomed to migrating forest industries, the Clemons Tree Farm was new, for it meant permanence.

The Washington state tree farm development soon attracted national interest and in March 1942 the executive committee of the National Lumber Manufacturer's Association approved a plan for conducting a national movement under the title "American Tree Farms. " The movement is now directed by the American Forest Products Industries, Inc., with headquarters in Washington, D. C. This organization, dedicated to the protection of timber resources in the United States and to encouragement of good forest practices, maintains national records and assists and advises state groups in the initiation of local tree-farm programs.

The movement spread rapidly. Arkansas and Alabama had their first tree farms certified and operating in the spring of 1942.

Some the mobile fire-fighting equipment developed for the Clemens Tree Farm, state of Washington. Here, at headquarters, fire warnings are received by telephone and radio, and fire fighters are dispatched with the speed of a city fire department.

From that beginning the American Tree Farm system has spread to 19 of the 48 states. The nearly 1,400 affiliated farms have an area of more than 15 million acres (6 million ha). The acreage has increased at a rate of about two million acres (800.000 ha) a year. The Northwest Loggers Association directs the program in the Douglas fir region of western Washington and Oregon. In the South, the Southern Pine Association promotes the idea, but the sponsorship is by states or organizations within states. The Western Pine Association has assumed leadership in its region. Sponsorship elsewhere is usually by state agencies or state forestry associations.

Tree farm defined

What is the tree-farm movement? What does it do? Is it a plan for instruction in forest management? Or is it a promotional project, Is it advertising?

It partakes of a little of all these, yet it is primarily not one of them. Perhaps a definition and a brief description of its functioning will clarify its purposes.

A tree farm is generally defined as "an area of privately owned forestland dedicated to the growing of forest crops for commercial purposes, protected and managed for continuous production of forest products."

It is chiefly a form of recognition of a good job of woodland management. First, local standards, suited to local conditions, are adopted. These usually take into consideration both the owner's intent and his performance. Is he managing his woodland for future and continuous crops of trees? Is he protecting his tree acres from fire and overgrazing, from insects and disease? Are his cutting practices satisfactory?

When, after investigation, the answers to these and similar questions are affirmative, a local forest-practice committee, set up by the sponsors, then certifies the area as a tree farm. Often this is done in a little ceremony, with the presentation of a certificate and a sign to mark the property as one devoted to production of forest crops.

As a rule, wide publicity is given to such certifications. The object of this publicity is twofold. First, it points to the property as an area which demonstrates what good forest practices are, and what they can accomplish. Second, it helps to create public understanding and appreciation of forest area as cropland. Newspaper and radio publicity is often reinforced by distribution of literature.

In general practice, the tree-farm movement does not provide individual instruction in land management, although there are instances where this has been done. But, in many states, the movement is tied in closely with such activities, by state or other agencies.

Actually tree farms are co-operative ventures. The land is privately owned, but the owner must enlist co-operation to protect his trees from fire. When that job is done well, both the tree farmer and the public share in the profits of the timber harvest. The owner benefits by profits from the sale of wood and the public through employment and the economic stimulation that follows the manufacture of useful products.

Perhaps the most potent factor in advancing the tree-farm movement in the United States has been the lure of profit to the individual woodland owner. However, it has been an honest lure.

Certified tree farms, under this system, range from 5 to 700,000 acres (2 to 280,000 ha). It so happens that both the largest and the smallest are in Texas, where more than one acre in every four of privately owned forest land has been certified under the tree-farm banner. Texas, incidentally, is one area in the United States where timber growth exceeds timber drain. It is credited by the United States Forest Service with having a higher percentage of privately owned forests under good management than any other state in the nation. In Washington state, where the idea originated, more than 20 percent of private forest lands-leave been certified as tree farms.

A common conception of tree farms is that they consist only of large industrial holdings. Actually, about 60 percent of the 1,387 units certified to date are owned by farmers, 23 percent by industries, and 17 percent by general investors. One 80,000-acre (32,000-ha) western pine tree farm in New Mexico is owned by the Boy Scouts of America. In terms of area, however, farmers have about 500,000 acres (200,000 ha), investors about 2,000,000 acres (810,000 ha), and the rest is industrially owned.

Nothing in the requirements of the tree-farm system regulates the end product. Trees on a certified farm may be cut for pulpwood, poles, pilings, mine props, railroad ties, sawtimber, or for any combination of markets. The primary consideration is profit to the owner.

In Tennessee, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina South Carolina, and New Jersey a number of woodland owners have come into the program with hardwood forests. The tree-farm movement promotes all types of forests - its primary consideration is the production of more trees for future crops of usable wood.

There is more to tree farming than hanging up an attractive sign on the gate that reads " Certified TREE: FARM, John Smith, Owner."

The landowner, when he places a tree-farm sign on his property, is making a public pledge that he will conscientiously manage his property to assure a continuous succession of tree crops. Some sponsors require that the owner prepare, and submit for approval, a plan for operating his wooded lands certified under the tree-farm agreement. In all cases his actual practices must be approved after qualified inspection.

The tree-farm program, since its inception in 1940, has been most enlightening even to the owners themselves. This is as true of the large timber operators, who count their acres in the thousands, as it is for the farmer with 20 acres (8 ha.) of second-growth pine on his north forty. Both have profited from the experience and both stand to profit a great deal more in the future. So too will the communities around these tree farms through the increased income that results from boosted production in wood crops and the steady payrolls that they bring.

Keep America green movement

Any discussion of the American tree-farm system is incomplete without some mention of the Keep America Green movement. Keep America Green, like the tree-farm program, began in the state of Washington. Like the tree-farm program, it has spread across the United States.

The two programs go hand in hand and support each other. The Keep Green Movement is, in simple language, a program for mass education in forest-fire prevention. Every Keep Green movement is well rooted in the local community.

Nine-tenths of all forest fires in the United States - and they annually burn over an area equal to that of New York state - are man-caused. These fires are the direct result of carelessness or ignorance. They start when motorists toss burning cigarettes out of car windows, when hunters drop lighted matches in the woods, when recreationists leave untended campfires, or when farmers set fire to weeds along their fence lines and let the flames spread to nearby timber.

The Keep Green program is specifically aimed at preventing fire losses of that kind. The technique has been simple and effective. Local organizations interested in fire prevention appeal to the public on a self-help basis by pointing out how forest fires rob everyone. They point out what fire-damaged forests mean in reduced payrolls, in reduced buying power, in reduced output of needed materials, and in loss to the local community and to the nation in wood resources.

In other words these local Keep Green committees, whether functioning in Florida or California, prove that forest fires are everybody's business because they result in everybody's loss.

Where the Keep Green educational job has been well done, forest fires and the damage they do become pretty tangible to even the most calloused and careless citizen. He no longer sees a forest fire as an impersonal thing that burns up somebody else's trees on some distant hillside. He sees it as it really is - a fire that is burning up potential homes, potential newsprint, potential tax money, and potential jobs.

The program is being carried on through schools, clubs, women's organizations, youth groups, and sportsmen's associations. The local Keep Green committees, through their state organizations and with the advice and assistance of their national sponsor, the American Forest Products Industries, Inc., keep the subject of forest-fire prevention constantly before the public Working through the newspapers, magazines, radio, motion pictures, and advert/sing agencies, the economic logic behind the Keep America Green slogan is being spread far and wide.

The Tree Farm and Keep America Green ideas have grown while the country as a whole has become more conscious of its forests. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that these programs have contributed a great deal to an increased awareness of the nation's dependence upon forest products and the necessity for more purposeful and constructive land management.

Facing the facts

The basic facts relating to American forests are becoming better known. We know that the nation's 461 million acres (187 million ha.) of commercial forest land are adequate to meet the nation's increasing demands for wood, and still have enough for reasonable export. But we know, too, that these acres are not now meeting their full responsibilities, and that much must Be done to bring them into full production. We take encouragement in the fact that today, for the first time, the United States is growing almost as much timber, of all types, as it is using or losing to fire, insects, and disease. We take encouragement in the fact that, although sawtimber growth is still on the deficit side, here, too, improvement can be seen if we compare today's facts with yesterday's facts.

Prominently displayed along a highway is a sign marking a western pine tree farm.

Showing how nature responds to tree-farming practices in the western pine region. This almost pure ponderosa pine forest is part of the Dan Gamble Memorial Tree Farm near Brewster, Wash. Heavy reproduction is about 10 years old. Picture taken Oct. 1945.

The improvement has not been enough, nor rapid enough. Sometimes it seems that foresters and those interested in forests spend too much time debating just how bad, or how good, the national situation may be with respect to forest growth. All of us, whether optimist or pessimist, can recognize that a big job remains to be done, and more is to be accomplished by tackling the job than by arguing just how big it is.

It's too big for any one of us working alone. The tree-farm movement is not a complete answer, nor does it pretend to be. It is one of the steps being taken, with generous co-operation by many agencies, first to understand, then to solve the forest problems of the country. While progress sometimes seems slow, as we work from month to month and from year to year, yet it is striking if we look back only 10 years.

No progress in American forest management can get too far ahead of public thinking. Nor too far ahead of public habits. That is why I believe that the Tree Farm movement - relating to forest management - and the Keep America Green movement-relating to forest-fire prevention - are contributing substantially to the rich soil of public understanding in which an expanding forest growth thrives best.

Photos accompanying this article are furnished by courtesy of the American Forest Products Industries, Inc.

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