The Forestry Work of the Tenth Census

UP to the present time there has been but a vague conception of the extent and value of one of the most important sources of the prosperity of the United States. It seems the more strange when it is considered that this great item in the nation’s assets is not buried in the earth, like its mineral wealth, but stands proudly upon the surface, like a mighty host, seen of all men. The entire welfare of a country is more identified with the forests that cover it than with any other feature of the earth’s surface. The trees are the kindest friends of the soil; they are the guardians of its fertility; they protect the fields from devastating floods, and cherish the springs that feed the streams. Without them a land becomes an arid desert, and its people are debased to barbarism and poverty. Great desolated tracts in Asia, Africa, and along the Eastern Mediterranean were once blooming and garden-like; but when the trees were cut away the dryads avenged themselves. Therefore it is fitting that in the grand taking account of stock in the national storehouse that occurs every decade, the forest wealth of the country should at last be accorded its proper place.

Although the statistics concerning the forests of most of the European countries are generally full and accurate, the institution of the forestry division of the tenth census of the United States forms the first attempt to obtain such information by means of the census work of any country. In laying out the work of his bureau, General Francis A. Walker, the superintendent of the census, decided to undertake an investigation into the extent of the forest covering of the country as related to agriculture ; into the forest wealth as related to manufactures, to railway transportation, and to the domestic supply of fuel; and into the operations of the lumbering industry as pursued in the principal districts of cutting and export. The scope of the investigation comprises the chief characteristics of the forest flora of each section of the country, an account of the various woods in their adaptation to industrial and domestic uses, and the methods in vogue in the various parts of the country for the protection or restoration of the forest growth. General Walker rightly felt that he could not confide the work to more competent hands than those of Professor Charles S. Sargent, the professor of arboriculture at Harvard University and director of the Arnold Arboretum.

Professor Sargent at once began his work with systematic vigor. He divided the country into eight districts, placing each in charge of a special agent; his large professional acquaintance enabling him to select the most competent scientific experts for the work. This work did not cover the settled regions, the facts concerning these being gathered by the regular census enumerators. Only the more strictly forest regions, or those parts of the country about which little or nothing could be learned through the regular machinery of the census, were included in these districts. The first district comprised Northern New England and Northern New York; the second, the mountains of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and the Southern Alleghanies; the third, Georgia and Eastern and Southern Florida; the fourth, the Gulf States, or Western Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Southern Louisiana, and Eastern Texas ; the fifth, the Northwestern lumber region, or Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Dakota ; the sixth, the tier of States west of the Mississippi, or Missouri, Arkansas, the eastern part of the Indian Territory, Western Louisiana, and Northern Texas ; the seventh, Montana, Idaho, and those portions of Oregon and Washington Territory east of the Cascade Mountains ; and the eighth, the Pacific slope, or the western part of Washington Territory, Western Oregon, California, and Arizona. The last two of these, being the least known with reference to their forest covering, were the most important. Professor Sargent took charge of the latter himself, and intrusted the former to Mr. Sereno Watson of Cambridge, the co-laborer of Professor Asa Grav in the great work on the flora of North America. Beside these, various local inquiries were undertaken by special assistants in many parts of the country.

The investigations in these districts were classified under three heads: (1) tree covering ; (2) forest wealth ; (3) the lumbering industry. Under the head of tree covering was to be estimated the area covered by arborescent growths ; more especially the heavy blocks of timber still remaining untouched in many regions, these constituting the future timber supply. As before stated, so far as the thickly settled portions of the country were concerned, the reports of the census enumerators were depended upon. The study of the large timber areas was regarded as more important, and to obtain an idea of their extent and quality was the first consideration for the special agents, who were directed to form, as far as possible, an estimate of the quantity of certain kinds of timber standing in their districts, the various kinds being specified according to the forest character of the respective regions. Thus, for instance, the agent in charge of the district comprising the tier of States west of the Mississippi was directed to pay particular regard to yellow pine, white oak, black walnut, white ash, blue ash, and osage orange, they being the most valuable timber trees in that region. The attention of this agent was especially called to the importance of obtaining information in regard to the amount and nature of the timber available for the supply of the treeless prairie States. Each district had some special features which were thus emphasized, and in the letters of instruction issued to the agents, all uniform in general outline, these differing local characteristics were dwelt upon in detail.

Since it is proposed to show in the report, by means of maps, not only the natural range of the most important timber trees, but also the area and position of the great timber belts as at present limited, the agents were requested to gather the fullest information for the purpose by making journeys over their territory, with that end specially in view, studying closely all heavily timbered tracts. They were expected to make use of every opportunity of communication with lumber experts, timber-land and saw-mill owners, and all others interested in the subject. From such persons a vast amount of knowledge regarding the quantity and position of standing lumber is naturally to be gathered. In Maine and other Eastern lumbering States there are experts in timber lands who are able to give very close estimates of the amount of standing pine and other valuable timber in any given region. In the newly settled States it is more difficult to get such accurate information at second hand, although in some sections experts in timber lands are to be found. Whenever there was any tree of special value in a given district, it was demanded that its amount and position should be investigated, and it was desired to obtain an accurate calculation of the number of thousand feet which could be cut from an acre.

Under the head of forest wealth was embraced the distribution of species, and their economic properties and uses ; the rotation of forest crops, and the causes and extent of forest fires. Each agent was furnished with a printed catalogue of North American forest trees. In this special attention was called to the nature of the information required in regard to species. Copies of this catalogue were also sent to all botanists and others interested in trees throughout the country, with the request that any intelligence in regard to American trees might be added, and the catalogue then returned to Professor Sargent. In this way a fund of valuable knowledge has been accumulated. The sylva of North America has been increased by several important species, while a vast amount of new information about the geographical distribution, habit, size, and character of nearly every species has been gathered. What has already been learned about the distribution of North American species, through this investigation, proves of very great importance and interest, and must greatly change preconceived views on the subject. Material of this nature will be contained in a new edition of the catalogue, which will form a part of Professor Sargent’s final report.

In connection with forest wealth, information was also required concerning the nature and the cause of certain varieties in timber produced by different specimens of the same species, varieties recognized and acknowledged by lumbermen, without yet having been clearly defined by science. Attention was particularly directed to this subject. The question of the rotation of forest was emphasized as of great importance, from the fact that the future forest wealth of the country largely depends upon it. The agents were therefore urged to make careful observation as to the kinds of trees springing up after the clearing of the original forest in the regions visited, and to notice, if possible, the causes which regulate the changes of tree covering. The origin of forest fires in different regions has been specially investigated, with the view of obtaining sufficient knowledge on which legislation to prevent or diminish their occurrence might be based. Every opportunity was to be availed of to obtain facts concerning the annual extent of such fires and the amount of damage caused by them, in the original forests, in those partially cut over, and on “ sprout-land,” so called.

This is considered at once the most important and the most difficult of the subjects embraced in the study of our forests. It is now generally conceded by those most familiar with the matter that a larger area of forest is annually destroyed by fire in the United States than by all other causes combined. Nor is the immediate destruction of forest covering the only or the greatest loss occasioned by these fires. Fire changes the character of the soil, and often renders it unfit to produce the valuable species which it did before ; so that the effect of a forest fire may extend through generations, causing inestimable loss. As railroads run further and further into forest-covered regions, and as hunters and prospectors penetrate further and further into the wilds of the Western mountains, forest fires increase. How rapidly they are multiplying, or what is the value, immediate and prospective, of property destroyed in this way, can probably never be accurately determined, But until some general idea of the annual extent of such fires can be gained, correct estimates of the future supply of American forest products will be impossible. This subject of forest fires, which should be considered one of the most important of the economic subjects with which we have to deal, will receive special attention in this investigation, with a view of determining not only the extent of the damage, but also the causes which produce the fires.

In connection with forest wealth, particular attention was called to the minor products of the forest, such as charcoal, tannin, potash, paper-pulp, turpentine, nuts, etc. Statistics and facts of all kinds were to be collected about these matters.

The report will probably contain an account of the lumbering industry of the United States. To collect information on this subject, the agents were instructed to visit the principal lumbering centres of their respective regions, to obtain an idea of its growth or decline in importance.

Each agent, while traveling, kept a diary, for the entering of all items of interest. It was a rule that this should be written up daily, that nothing might be left to memory. These diaries contained the itinerary, the nature of the country passed through, the extent and nature of the forests, a record of the remarkable trees, the addresses of persons of intelligence interviewed (these as a directory for future investigations), and notes on the information given by them. These diaries were to serve as a basis for the drawing-up of the reports, and therefore had to be made as complete as possible in every particular. On the finishing of the field work they were either returned to the writers for condensation, or worked up in the office at head - quarters into the final report, as might be most expedient. The agents were provided with field maps, on which to record observations on the distribution of timber. These, together with the diaries, were to enable the makingup of maps, showing with an approach to accuracy the present timbered areas of the respective regions.

The expedition of Mr. Sereno Watson was one of the most important undertaken in connection with the work ; it was also peculiarly arduous, and accompanied by considerable hazard and adventurous experience. As far as forests were concerned, he was to journey through an unknown land. Science knew but little of the flora of the region, and nothing of the forests. Mr. Watson left the Union Pacific Railroad at Og-

den, in Utah, early in the summer, and went along the line of the Utah Northern Railroad into Montana; then, traversing the eastern flanks of the Rocky Mountains to the British boundary, he proceeded along the spur-range connecting the Rockies with the Cascade range, and thence southward into Eastern Oregon. Part of the distance he went over postal routes, part over trails with pack-horses and attendants, and part entirely alone. At the outset it was taken for granted that it would be impossible to make any estimate of the territory covered with forest in that portion of the United States west of the one hundred and sixth degree of west longitude, except in the most general manner. Since, however, it can be laid down as a prevailing rule that in Western America forests exist only at certain elevations, — the lower limits of forest growth depending largely upon latitude, — by determining the elevations of the upper and lower limits of forest growth in different regions, it was expected that a forest map of that part of the country could be made, showing roughly, but truthfully, the forest areas and distribution in that section. Mr. Watson’s attention was called particularly to the region east of the “great plains” of the Columbia River in Washington Territory. It was believed that the mountain ranges extend further westward, occupying a portion of what on existing maps is laid down as “ plains ” or “ unexplored territory.” On Professor Brewer’s forest map, published in connection with the last census, the northern portions of Montana and Washington Territory are represented as much more heavily timbered than either the rain-fall or the topography would indicate as possible. Mr. Watson was therefore requested especially to study this region, the forests of which are of great economical value, because of the important railroad lines that are soon to traverse them. These railroad lines must depend largely on local forests for their supplies, and it is of importance that the value and extent of these northern forests should be fully understood by the country at large.

Professor Sargent himself, having made a preliminary tour of observation through the forest regions of the Gulf States in the winter of 1880, devoted the most of the summer to the exploration of the forests of the Pacific slope, in company with Dr. Engelmann, the disinguished botanist, of St. Louis. This journey — which covered nearly fifteen thousand miles, and extended from British Columbia, through the mountain ranges of Washington Territory, Oregon, and California, to the Mexican boundary in Southeastern Arizona — is rich in observations of great scientific and economical interest, and is the most comprehensive and important study of the forests of Western America, and of the species of which they are composed, which has ever been undertaken.

It is expected to receive much valuable materia] by means of various inquiries through circulars and similar agencies. Letters were sent to county surveyors and like officers in every county throughout the United States, inclosing a schedule to be filled out with the answers of fourteen questions about the forests in their districts, and also a section of a map covering their respective counties, upon which the wooded regions might be traced. The knowledge gained in this manner served as a check on the returns of the enumerators and the special agents of the department. A circular was sent to the agencies of the Indian and military reservations, asking about the amount and distribution of timber on the reservation, the use of wood by the Indians, the depredations on the forests by whites, the amount of timber annually cut, and the ravages of forest fires. Schedules addressed to all railroad companies contained questions as to the use of timber for manifold railroad purposes : the number of cross-ties and fence posts annually used, the kind of wood, the cost, the average life, and whether procured on the line of the railroad, or elsewhere. It was asked whether any trees had been planted by the company during the past ten years : their number, kind, and amount of each kind, and their present condition. Inquiries were made as to the use of processes for preserving timber, and the success met with in particular methods. Details were also requested about the use of wood as fuel for locomotives.

To all manufacturers using unsawed lumber, questioning circulars were also sent. The principal industries were the manufacture of cooperage stocks, wooden ware, matches, “excelsior” filling, wood-pulp for paper, gunpowder, implement handles, shoe-pegs, telephone and telegraph poles, oars, dyestuffs, and tannin extracts. Facts about the various forest products, such as nuts, etc., were gained by inquiries of wholesale dealers in the great cities.

One of the most important features of this great investigation, if not the most important from a scientific standpoint, is the testing of all North American woods. These tests are intended to demonstrate the comparative value of all the various woods for different purposes in construction and for fuel. The comparative value of different species will thus be ascertained, and also that of the wood of the same species when produced under different conditions of climate and soil.

These tests have been made by Mr. S. P. Sharples, state assayer of Massachusetts, under the direction of Professor Sargent. In all, several thousand specimens were tested. The collection of the different woods, many of them from trees heretofore but little known, and often growing in the most remote and inaccessible Western regions, has cost an immense amount of labor. The collection could not have been made with out the cordial coöperation of botanists all over the country, and of many lumbermen, railway corporations, and others who appreciate the importance of the work. The wood was sent to Boston in the rough, and was carefully dressed to the proper shape and size. A portion of it was thoroughly seasoned by driving out every particle of moisture. This process is the most thorough test of the quality of a wood in relation to “ checking,” as the cracking and splitting of wood while seasoning is technically called. A wood that does not check under these circumstances will probably never check under any other. To ascertain the specific gravity, a piece of each specimen of wood is made into a block one decimeter long by thirty-five millimeters square. Duplicate sets of these blocks are made, one of them to be placed in the National Museum at Washington, while the other will probably be acquired for the Arnold Arboretum. These blocks, when arranged together in a collection, give a fine idea of the beauty of the respective woods, displayed as they are in contrasting and checkered variety, with their smooth finish, and often exquisite hues and tints, showing colors the existence of which in plain native woods is a revelation to the casual beholder. Before the specific gravity is obtained, each block is measured with the minutest accuracy. Seasoned pieces of each kind of wood are also weighed carefully, and then burned in a close oven ; the ashes thus made are weighed, and carefully preserved in vials. These ashes are of curiously varying colors. These two processes — measuring the specific gravity and burning — give the value of the wood for fuel. Tests of strength were made with the great testing-machine at the United States arsenal in Watertown. Each kind of wood, seasoned naturally, but with the greatest care, is submitted to three tests. Its capacity to resist a strain is ascertained by the force required to pull it apart longitudinally ; its sustaining capacity by the power of a piece, supported at each end, to hold up weights suspended from the centre ; and its resistance to pressure by the power demanded to crush it. These tests, which give the value of the respective woods for purposes of construction, are made upon strips generally forty-eight inches long by two and one half inches square.

Many years ago the value of a few of the principal Eastern woods was roughly determined by Bull, and published in the Transactions of the Philadelphia Philosophical Society. In most countries of Europe, and in Australia, various tests of the worth of woods for different purposes have been undertaken. Most of the results thus obtained are unsatisfactory. Not having been made under the direction of a botanist, there is always doubt as to the right determination of the species tested. In the experiments heretofore made to ascertain the specific gravity of wood, specimens seasoned in the ordinary way have been taken, so that in the uncertainty of exact conditions comparative estimates of values are impossible.

This is the first time that all the woods of a great continent have ever been comprehensively studied, and, under the direction of a single individual, brought under one set of scientific tests. The report will make known to the world at large the nature and value of the products of American forests. From the arboricultural point of view, also, the outcome of these experiments will be of great importance. For, in the case of the leading timber trees of wide distribution, they will show what part of the country and what soil may be expected to produce the best results. This, when the time for replanting our forests arrives, will be of the greatest economical value.

The work of the investigation is carried on in the laboratory of the Arnold Arboretum. It will naturally take much time and labor to digest the enormous amount of material acquired ; especially, since this is the first time that a work of the sort has been undertaken. Some time must elapse before the final report can be made public. The work will be published as a monograph, with maps, charts, and diagrams, in the author’s name, and should command the attention of all interested in our forests or their products.

Sylvester Baxter.