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Forestry in North America

Abstract

THE timber-cutters, graziers, and settlers, who are rapidly destroying the forests of North America have recently obtained a valuable ally in Major J. W. Powell, Director of the United States Geological Survey; who, in his enthusiasm for the construction of dams, appears to care little from whence his country-men are to get their future supplies of timber, whilst his proposed means for securing to them a perpetual water-supply for irrigating the farm lands below the Rocky Mountains, when confronted with the experience acquired in Europe, are likely to prove worse than useless. Most students of physical geography consider hill forests as efficient aids in storing water, but not so Major Powell; for in the April number of the Century Magazine in a paper on the “Non-irrigable Lands of the West,” and in another paper published in the August number of the North American Review, entitled “The Lesson of Conemaugh,” he advocates the denudation of the higher slopes of the Rocky Mountains, in order to allow snow-drifts to accumulate in the folds of the hills, and afford a perennial supply of water for irrigating the drier lands below the forest belt. Major Powell contends that, as long as the higher hill slopes remain forest-clad, the snow falling on them will always be uniformly distributed, and cannot be drifted together by the wind. It therefore melts away gradually, without affording a steady supply of water to the hill streams. He also asserts that in California the hill streams have increased wherever the hills have been denuded; and expresses his opinion that, although forests may be useful in districts with a heavy rainfall, as they evaporate excessive moisture rapidly from the soil, yet in drier regions this rapid evaporation is prejudicial, and therefore forests should be cleared in order to preserve the requisite amount of moisture in the soil. This appears to be a complete inversion of what actually occurs, as I hope to show further on.

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FISHER, W. Forestry in North America. Nature 43, 247–248 (1891). https://doi.org/10.1038/043247a0

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