State forests’ history a lot like the present
While rummaging through an old trunk recently, I uncovered an original copy of the “Official Report of Forest, Fish and Game Commission for New York – In the year ending September 30, 1901.”
The report, bound in a handsome cover nearly six inches thick, was in very good shape and featured a variety of articles on subjects ranging from state forests, moose restocking efforts to reports on the protection of fish, fowl and state forest lands.
It’s interesting to note the numerous forest, game and bird protection efforts that were underway more than 110 years ago, which still have parallels today. Similarly, there were concerns over the protection of state forests, which at the time contained far less than the current 3.7 million acres of land.
The report also detailed numerous threats posed by invasive species. It included illustrations with engraved plates that detailed “White Pine Killed by Bark Borers in 1900, Hard Pine Deformed by Work of White Pine Weevil, Salem, N. Y., Work of Coarse Writing Bark Beetle in White Pine, Work of Balsam Bark Borer in Balsam, Operations of Large Black Carpenter Ant.”
A century later, threats posed by insects have been replaced by emerald ash borers, Asian long-horned beetles, hemlock wool adelgids and pine shoot beetles.
At the time, the report noted that, “the Commission desires to acknowledge … Prof. E. VanPelt, State Entomologist, who continues his series of papers on insects injurious to forests.
“Particular attention has been given by the Commission to the planting of trees on denuded tracts of land, where barren areas have been caused either by an unwise harvesting of the native timber crop, or by fire.
“Extensive experiments made by the Commission have shown that, at a remarkably small expense, these barren places can in time be replaced by a healthful and valuable forest growth of trees. There are many of these denuded areas on state lands.”
Further illustrations detailed the planting of pine plantations on barren state lands.
The report also drew parallels with current efforts to add more land and more protection to the state Forest Preserve, as it stated:
“Attention is respectfully called to the appended reports of the Superintendent of Forests, the Chief Protector, the Superintendent of Shellfisheries, etc.
“The following recommendations are made for your consideration:
– That a constitutional amendment be provided for the application of scientific conservation forestry to state lands.
– That a constitutional amendment be provided to permit the leasing of small campsites within the Forest Preserve.
– That a constitutional amendment be provided which will permit the sale or exchange of detached parcels of land outside the Adirondack Park, not in the Catskill region, for land within its boundaries.
– That steps be taken, through the purchase of forest lands, to prevent the cutting of hardwood for commercial purposes, and especially for acid factories within the Adirondack Preserve.
– That spring shooting of wild fowl and birds of all kinds be prohibited.”
The report noted that, “From the list of lands scheduled in this publication, together with additions made since its issue, it appears the area of the Forest Preserve is as follows:
Adirondack Preserve counties, acres
– Clinton, 20,105
– Essex, 231,764
– Franklin, 159,633
– Fulton, 21,426
The report continued with the following definition and classification of state lands:
“After a careful study of the subject it was decided that, in making the classification of the various kinds of land, it would be advantageous to classify under the same descriptive terms used by the State Comptroller in his circular letter of
Instruction to the town assessors; viz., forest, lumbered, waste, burned, denuded, wild meadows, improved and water.
“The advantage in this arrangement was that the assessment roll of each forest town, as required by law, is filed each year in this manner.
“Forest. Embraces all forest lands from which no timber has been removed except white pine which on many townships had been cut forty years or more ago, at a time when the lumbermen took this species only. Also, lands which were lumbered for spruce over eighteen years ago and on which there is now a good second cutting, because the lumbermen at that time did not cut below twelve inches.
“Lumbered. Under this head are included all lands from which the evergreens or softwoods – pine, spruce, hemlock and balsam – have been taken, but on which there is still a good forest covering of hardwood timber, the latter species generally forming over sixty-five per cent of the original growth. Some lands on which the lumbermen left the hemlock and balsam were also included in this class.
Waste. Includes wild lands on which there is a scattered growth of small poplars, scrubby hardwoods or stunted conifers.
Burned. Lands that have been burned over within a few years, and on which the timber was all killed; or ground covered with old, charred fire-slash.
Denuded. Sand plains; barrens; ground covered with ferns, huckleberry bushes and brier patches; abandoned farms and old clearings.
Wild Meadows. Grass lands, such as the Indian Plains on the South Branch of the Moose River; beaver meadows; and river flats on which wild hay is cut by residents of the vicinity.”
– State, 1,163,414
– Private preserves, 705,914
– Individuals or companies, 1,356,816
– Total, 3,226,144
The Commission members also voiced disappointment with the condition of certain Adirondack lands.
“We were deeply impressed by the burned and barren condition of some of the prominent mountain tops and slopes, which are a source of disappointment to the large and increasing number of people who come here for summer enjoyment and mountain scenery.
“As a result of this denudation of the mountain slopes the brooks, where the speckled trout once found a natural home, have become in places a succession of mere pools separated by the dry rocky bed of the once unfailing stream.
“These unsightly areas are not due to any lack of soil or suitable forest conditions, but are the result of fires, which in the old days were often deliberately set, after the cutting down of the great stand of hemlock, from which only the bark was taken; in fact, it is a legend of the locality that the boys used to celebrate the Fourth of July and election by burning a mountain.
“From a close examination of some of these burned places it appears that nature does not reclothe them directly with valuable species. Ferns, pin cherries, and trees of inferior value come up first, to be followed after a lapse of time by an unevenly distributed growth of more valuable trees.
“A long period of years is often necessary for the slow change of composition of the forest, and the return of valuable species. First, poplar, with light seeds easily carried by the wind, and pin cherry, the seeds of which are probably carried by the birds, come in from a long distance.”
Despite the apparent ecological damage resulting from the lumber industry, the report’s authors attempted to impress members of the Forest, Fish and Game Commission with the true commercial capabilities of the state’s forest products, when they added, “The combined product of the Adirondack and Catskill forests amounted in 1900 to 651,135,308 feet, or more than the entire Canadian lumber import of that year to the United States.
“As the figures may convey little or no meaning to persons who are not familiar with the lumber business, it may be well to explain, as done in a previous report, that this product would load 62,000 cars, making a train over 400 miles long.
“In the year 1900 the lumber industry of this state employed 8,616 men in the sawmills and lumber camps, the total wages paid amounting to $3,537,916.
“The total capital invested in the business amounts to $20,236,352. The pulp and paper mills employed 9,872 men, and paid out that year $4,958,433 in wages.
“New York leads all other States of the Union in the number of its paper and pulp mills, the capital invested in these plants amounting to $37,349,390.”