National Coopers’ Journal – The Slaughter of the Trees, August 1908.

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The more things change, the more they stay the same. In today’s world we hear about the shortage of whiskey barrels all the time. Will there be enough barrels to meet the world’s thirst for bourbon and whiskey? By law, bourbon must pass through a “new” oak barrel (container) to meet the legal definition of bourbon. Without “new” oak barrels, there is no bourbon. Sniff, sniff, cry, cry!

While doing some research for #WorldWoodDay I came across this story from The National Cooper’s Journal published August 1908 in Philadelphia. Inside the edition, they have a special excerpt from “Everybody’s Magazine” titled, The Slaughter of the Trees – Do You Care? This sounds like a story may have been published in the Wall Street Journal last week. Take a look at this 100 plus year old story and count how many times you read a phrase or saying that was as correct then as it is today. Thank you to all the barrels makers that believe in sustainable barrel making practice. 

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The Slaughter of the Trees – August 1908


The above caption is the title of a very interesting article in the May Everybody’s, by Emersen Hough. The article is most profusely and convincingly illustrated, and is, in part, as follows:

In fifty years we shall have ‘whole States as bare as China. The Appalachians will be stripped to bedrock.

The Rockies will send down vast Hoods, which cannot be controlled. The Canadian forests north of the Great Lakes will be swept away. Our Middle West will be bare. The Yazoo Delta will be ripped apart, because no levee will be able to stand the Hoods of those days. We shall be living in crowded concrete houses, and at double the rent use now pay. We shall make vehicles of steel, use no wood on our farms.

We shall pay 10 cents for a newspaper, 50 cents for a magazine, as much for a lead-pencil. Cotton will be immensely higher. Beef will be the privilege of the few. Clothing will cost twice what it costs today.

Like Chinamen, our children will rake the soil for fuel or forage for food. We shall shiver in a cold, and burn in a heat, never before felt in this temperate zone, meant by God as a comfortable growing place for splendid human beings—unless “we wake up.

My friend, yesterday a man took the meat from your table. Today a man burned down your house.

Do you care?

My brother, yesterday this was America, a rich and beautiful land. Today much of it is a waste and a wilderness. Is that anything to you and me?

My brother, in ten years a man is going to force you to rent a house of him and to pay him double what you do now. In twenty years very few of us will be able to afford even rented houses. In thirty years America will no longer be able to build houses of wood—unless you shall meantime remember that you own America, you who found it, fought for it, and who ought to have a pride in it, if only for the sake of what it might have been. Does this cause you any personal concern?

My friend, before a certain great revolution, the peasants, who could not own timber of their own, gleaned firewood in the forests of nobles who swept their backs with the lash of insolence. In England men once prized the scant right to reap with peasant’s bill-hook or shepherd’s crook as high as they could reach among the dead branches of the trees. Soon you will perhaps fight among your kind and kin for the right to glean in another man’s forest by hook or crook—you, who but now owned the widest and richest forests in the world.

Do you care?

In Europe, one may not fell a tree without paying, without asking. As Americans, we laugh at such restrictions. We are fools. Do you care? We call this the land of the free. It is not such now. We boasted of our land of opportunity, open to all the world, but opportunity has been taken from the average man. Do you object?

Do you think such statements as these sensational, brutal, coarse? My brother, what pen shall be so bitter and abominable as shall make you writhe and say, “This is not true,” and then make you look around and find that it all is true, and more is true?

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When we first owned this country, one-half of its total area was covered with the grandest forests that ever grew in any portion of the world, the richest, the most useful, the most valuable for the building of a civilization. Yes, we had trees. We had forests that set the first writers who saw this country wild with admiration, men who came here from reforested Europe. They were all ours. Now they are gone. Are they reared in lasting structures of a great civilization? No, at least one-half of them are ashes or rotted mold. Half of what we have left today also will be ashes or rotted mold. They will never rest in the beams and walls of abiding homes.

Had we gone on across this continent and left the remnants of our standing woods, we still should have abundance; but we have gone back a second and a third time, gleaning more exactly each little bit of wood, until we have reaped our forests as sheep reap the grass lands, leaving nothing behind to grow. We have used ever-increasing appliances for speed and thoroughness, to supply an ever-increasing price. We are converging in ever-increasing numbers, with an ever-increasing zeal, upon what is left; and in our haste to get it all, we are permitting an ever-increasing waste and ruin of the original supply.

Showing Modern Methods of Forestry. Conservation and Brush Pile to Lessen Fire RiskShowing modern methods of forestry, conservation, lumbering and brush piled to lessen fire risk

Our very classification shows how sweeping has been the devastation. We now classify as “pine” all sorts of pine—Norway pine, Jack pine, pitch pine although we know that true white pine, once the only wood dignified with the name is, as a great lumber tree, practically an extinct species. As to the hard woods, twenty years ago we used only oak, walnut, hickory, cherry, maple, birch ; now we add cottonwood, beech, sycamore, all sorts of gum trees—anything that will saw into a board. The desolation in the hardwood forests of the South is as unspeakable as in the pine forests of the North. Stave makers, tie cutters, vehicle and machinery makers have ripped open the hardwood regions of Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas, until the end is as close there as it is in the vaster pine woods.

On the Pacific Coast, we used, not long ago, only the finest of redwood, gradually then the Douglas fir or spruce. Now we cut in the West hemlock, cedar, lodge-pole pine – anything that will hold a saw blade. For a long time we thought these great Western stores exhaustless, just as not long ago we thought the forests of Michigan and Wisconsin exhaustless, where now remains in great part only a horrible wilderness.

All the time poorer species and grades of timber are employed, all over America, East and West. All the time the “estimates” of our remaining timber increase. But all the time, the standing trees themselves de crease; all the time the fires rage; all the time the waste goes on, immense logs, the butts of giant trees, being left in the woods to rot because it does not pay to get them out of the woods “at the present price of lumber.” All the time the loss to the people of America goes on, and the price to the people of America goes up. And all the time the people of America either do not know or do not care.

We ought to care, and if we knew the facts, no doubt we should care. What, then, are some of the facts? Plenty of facts, and very obvious ones, lie at hand for anyone interested in any sort of building or manufacture requiring the use of lumber. What was $8 or $10 rough lumber, is now worth $25 to $30 a thousand. Ordinary clear building and finishing lumber costs from $30 to $125 a thousand. The price of all lumber has in five years risen over 50 per cent. We use lumber now that twenty years ago would have been rejected with scorn by any builder. Yet prices are going up, and still up; and the lumbermen wish these prices “protected,” and ask that the Sherman law be revoked. In spite of these facts, the professional optimist in lumber attempts to soothe us with the assurance that there is plenty of timber “farther west”; that it will last “indefinitely” at the “present rate.”

But the lumberman bases all his timber estimates on the present rate of cutting and on the present rate of demand. True, no one can prophesy or even estimate the accelerated, the cumulative demand of the future.

Decade after decade of our past has shown us that we could not dream big enough to cover the actual figures of this demand. Yet this un-estimated factor is the element of danger for the future.

The lumberman does not figure on the million or more of immigrants we take in each year to house, not to mention an occasional American native born. Worst and most absurd of all, he figures on the timber supply lasting on the basis of its all being used. Yet, of all the timber now left standing in America, to represent our en tire future supply, this lumberman, judged by his record, will use less than one-half. The other half will never be taken out of the woods at all. Three-fourths of that half may never even be cut, but may be set on fire and burned as it stands. Much as we had in forest resources in the past, we never could afford to have lumbering operations destroy as much as they sawed. But that is what they did. What should be our attitude today toward the threatening destruction of one-half of our alarmingly small remaining supply ?

Last year we cut nearly forty billion (40,000,000,000) feet of lumber, board measure. It may be interesting to know in what proportions the different States furnished this supply. In relative order, a partial list is as follows: Washington, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Mississippi, Arkansas. Minnesota, Texas, Pennsylvania, Oregon, California, North Carolina—and so down. Today Washington furnishes 11.5 per cent, of our lumber, and Louisiana 7.4 per cent.

Let us look now at some of the demands for trees that at first might seem unimportant.

Our railroads are said to use one-third of the industrial timber cut. They require, on the basis of present demand, 100,000,000 ties per year, and they are always wondering where they are going to get them. The demand is for better ties, not poorer. Bad ties mean wholesale murder, forfeiture of mail contracts, reduced dividends. A tie contains about 35 feet of wood. All sorts of wood are now being used for ties, from hemlock, at 28 cents, to white oak, at 51 cents, an average of 47 cents per tie. Suppose we could cut 100 ties to the acre; we should require a million acres a year for ties. Hardwood grows, under favorable conditions, a little more than 40 cubic feet per acre per year! Not a very fast crop, is it? Railroad men sincerely wish it might be faster. The Santa Fe road has recently arranged to plant a few thousand acres with eucalyptus, from which it will sometime make ties. Each road now has its tie lands. These lands no longer furnish a public supply of lumber.

Alongside the ties run the telegraph poles, not so perishable, but requiring continual renewal. Two years ago we cut 3,526,875 poles over 20 feet in length. Three-fifths of these were cedar, 28 per cent, chestnut. We cut hundreds of thousands of smaller poles, also, not to mention vast quantities of what is called lodge- pole pine, for other uses. We annually reap for telegraph and telephone poles somewhere between three and four million acres of land.

Our tanneries two years ago required 1,370,000 cords of bark. In the same year, we cut 11,858,260 shingles and 3,812.807 laths. This represents one of the real savings in lumber manufacture—the utilization of material much of which otherwise would go to waste. Then we had to timber our mines, and for that we used 165,000,000 cubic feet, not board measure, much of which was the best of hardwood.

If you stood on top of a tower in the greatest hardwood forests of the South, one sweep of the scythe of civilization would mow it farther than you could see, for one month’s use in vehicles, manufactured furniture and farm implements. Prices for this kind of wood have risen from 25 to 65 per cent, since 1899. In seven years, the production of hardwood has fallen off 15 per cent; and those were the six years of its greatest demand.

There is absolutely no hope for vehicle and machine makers except a more careful use of the hardwood forests of the South and the Southeast; nor, indeed, can that be called a solution now. In these forests grow also many softer woods, once scorned. Continually we adjust, compromise, become European, and not American.

Tight-barrel cooperage is a heavy drain on white oak. In 1906 we made 267,827,000 tight-barrel staves. We sent to Europe last year about $5,000,000 worth of white oak staves.

Mean time, California cannot get casks for her wine, because white oak now costs too much to ship to California. She is trying redwood for wine casks now, and grumbling mightily.

Slack-barrel cooperage in elm, gum, beech, bass-wood, and fourteen other woods not long ago thought worth less, cut 1,097,063,000 staves in one year. All these little demands foot up an enormous and menacing total in acreage.

The highest estimate of our remaining hardwood is 400,000,000,000 feet. For lumber, ties, posts, manufactures, fuel, etc., we use 25,000,000,000 feet per annum or more. At that rate, it will take us sixteen years to use up all the rest of our hardwood—if we do not burn it, and if the demand remains the same! A pleasant prospect, is it not?

Someone has figured that a big Sunday newspaper needs twenty acres of pulp wood to make the paper for one edition. The Chicago Tribune, a chance instance, uses 200,000 pounds of paper each Sunday, or 400,000 each week. Do your own multiplying. We used of domestic spruce alone for pulp wood in one year, 1,785,680 cords. The average stand of spruce pulp wood in the regions where it is cut is probably about 10 cords per acre, so that of such spruce land we’re quire at least 178.500 acres annually. A ton of paper takes about two cords of spruce in the making—to be exact, about 1,750 pounds of paper pulp.

We use other woods for pulp now—hemlock, balsam, pine, poplar: 3,661,176 cords was our total for 1906. We used, in that year, 2,327,844 tons of pulp. Since each ton probably cost on the average two cords of some sort of wood, not allowing for waste, there were over 4,000,000 cords cut somewhere, mostly in the United States, which means something like a million acres a year for pulp. Call it a half-million for close measure. Do some figuring. If it costs 20 acres a Sunday, or 40 acres a week, or 2,080 acres a year to print one daily newspaper, what does it cost in acreage to print all the newspapers in all the cities and towns of America? Add to this the enormous editions of our magazines. Add to this the paper used in books. The total staggers the imagination, and yet the amount of timber cut for pulp in the United States annually is less than 5 per cent, of what is cut for lumber.

It would seem that we cannot afford much longer to read. Neither shall we long be able to write. Last year were made more than 315,000,000 lead-pencils. A lead-pencil is not very large, but the total number of lead-pencils required 7,300,000 cubic feet of cedar. We have cedar enough to last us just twelve years.

More than 100,000 acres of timber, in the whole United States, are cut over every working-day. We use many times more timber per capita than any other nation.

We have left not over 450,000,000 acres bearing commercial timber. Cast up in your mind some of the small demands of industry noted above. Multiply this by three or four to represent the total, including all sorts of sawn lumber. Remember that you are dealing in terms of millions of acres. Divide 450,000,000 by your total number of millions of known demand. What is the result? Do you find it pleasant? Do you remain willing to listen to the charming of those who are either ignorant or hypocritical in their “estimates”?

All our standing timber is estimated to be somewhere between fourteen hundred and two thousand billion feet. If we use 40,000,000,000 per annum, we can run thirty-five to fifty years at the present rate, provided we do not have any waste. If we use 100,000,000,000 per annum, our timber will last fourteen to twenty years, on the same basis. If we use 150,000,000,000 per annum, in nine to thirteen years our timber will be gone! Counting the natural growth under prevailing methods, we could add ten years to these terms, but that means if there is no waste in any private operations, and we cannot control the  operations on private lands under any laws we now have.

Felled Timber After Burning and Peeling and Before Being Sawn
Felled timber after burning and peeling and before being sawn

As to the woods most used today, we may find out something. Yellow pine is now first, about one-third of the total cut. At the present rate, it will hardly last fifteen years. The optimists of the lumber trade say twenty to twenty-five years. Douglas fir is next in amount used. At the “present rate.” it would last seventy years. Is that any ground for hope? Not in the least. We are just beginning to get into this Douglas fir country with roads and mills. No one thinks there will be any of it left twenty-five years or, at the most, thirty years from now-. Its history thus far offers a close parallel to that of the white pine, once thought exhaustless; but we must look at the Douglas fir in the light of future history plus improvements, plus increased facilities for transportation, plus speed, plus an always increasing demand.

And yet there are some men, among them many Western men who execrate the idea of timber reserves as “un-American.” There are a few men who condemn President Roosevelt for using the last three minutes of the last session of Congress in signing up for the American people 17,000,000 acres of new natural forests or reserves. It was his last chance to do so. Congress was about to pass a law taking the matter of reserves out of the President’s hands. Note now, if you please, that this pinch for trees is in the hands of Congress—that is to say, of American politics. We have now about 165,000,000 acres in our National reserves. If we had three times that much, we should not have enough.”

Facts About National Forestry

Here are some facts regarding forest preservation in the United States: In area the National reservations west of the Mississippi River cover 234,170 square miles, or 149,869,000 acres.

There is being spent in the Western States $40,000,000 for reclamation and $5,000,000 is needed at once for the Eastern States.

Proposed Eastern forest reservations include 660,000 acres, or 1,030 square miles, in the White Mountains, and 5,000,000 acres, or 7,800 square miles, in the Southern Appalachians.

In 1907 President Roosevelt added 17,000,000 acres to the Western forests, and a bill is pending in Congress to provide for the two National forest areas in the Eastern mountains, with a preliminary appropriation of $5,000,000.

In his message to Congress, President Roosevelt said, “We should acquire in the Southern Appalachian and White Mountain regions all the forest land that is possible for the use of the nation. These lands, because they form a National asset, are as emphatically national as the rivers which they feed and which flow through so many States before they reach the ocean.”

Upon the subject of forest preservation generally, President Roosevelt said, “Shall we continue the waste and destruction of our National resources or shall we conserve them? There is no other question of equal gravity before the nation.”


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