Virgin Forests Ruthlessly Wasted

Social Issues

We have been in the habit of turning to other countries for examples of lands, denuded of their timber, their soil washed away by the unleashed waters. We are urged to look at the bleak wastes found over vast areas of China and Asia Minor and to see them as the kind of heritage America will surely pass on to future generations unless she speedily changes her practices of cutting timber from steeply-sloping areas and of permitting needless fires to destroy soil-binding vegetation.
But we do not have to look afar. In this youthful country of ours we have only too many examples of what happens when land is unwisely used. In a single county of the Piedmont region a soil survey revealed more than ninety thousand acres of formerly productive soil fallen to the low estate of “rough gullied land.” Its soil had washed away; in thousands of places the underlying rock had been exposed, and only unimportant patches of unscarred land remained as islands and peninsulas between hideous gullies, most of which are not large enough to cultivate.
Not far away, sixty thousand acres, formerly cultivated as good farm land, have been similarly destroyed, or impaired beyond possibility of economical use for anything but forestry. Most of these ravaged areas are permanently destroyed so far as crops go. Centuries would be required for natural restoration of a new layer of even mediocre soil. What a prospect with gullies more than two hundred feet deep where a short while ago cotton, and corn were growing! Forty years ago a schoolhouse stood on a spot from which the eye now sweeps a thousand acres of destroyed land. In the strip of loessial soil extending along the east side of the Mississippi River from Louisiana northward into Kentucky, and thence up the Ohio and Missouri Rivers, hundreds of thousands of acres of land have been ruined since the removal of the timber a few generations ago.
In one locality several counties have now only scattered tracts of really good soil. Many cut-over slopes in the Appalachian Mountains are now grim spectacles, monuments to man’s wasteful methods. The virgin forests, instead of being carefully cut according to the sane methods of forestry, were cut down with ruthless waste, and the land burned over and plowed for crops. After a few years of corn or tobacco the fertile soil has washed away in vast sheets, and in a thousand gullies both soil and subsoil have been eroded to bed rock. Magnificent forests that should have given perpetual cuttings of valuable timber have disappeared almost at a single stroke, and ridges between unsightly gullies now riddle the landscape like the bleached bones on desert sands.

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