Page images
PDF
EPUB

A quantity greater by 3,836,411.18 acres than that disposed-of the preceding year. This increase is in the homestead entries for actual settlement and for timber culture.

The cash receipts were $2,022,532.16, an increase of $569,562.93.

During the year 8,041,011.83 acres were surveyed, making, with the quantity previously surveyed, 724,311,477 acres, and leaving yet to be surveyed 1,090,461,171 acres.

TIMBER LANDS.

In my last annual report I called attention to the necessity of rigorous measures for the suppression of depredations upon the timber lands of the United States. During the past year the employment of special agents for that purpose was continued, and proceedings against depredators instituted, as far as existing laws and the appropriations made by Congress would permit. I regret to say that at times the operations of the department were seriously hampered by the lack of available funds, but appropriations made on April 30 and June 20, 1878, rendered the employment of a larger number of agents possible, as well as the making of surveys in the preparation of evidence to sustain prosecutions. The report of the Commissioner of the General Land Office gives a detailed statement of the settlements made, verdicts obtained, and suits still pending.

It was to be expected that the measures taken by this department for the protection of the public timber lands would meet with stubborn opposition on the part of lumbermen and others directly or indirectly interested in those depredations. Here and there the proceedings of the special agents of the department were complained of as oppressive and otherwise improper, and in every instance careful inquiries into the facts were instituted. Such inquiries resulted almost uniformly in the vindication of the agents employed. When it was found that private property had been seized, together with timber unlawfully taken from the public lands, or with lumber manufactured therefrom—which was sometimes unavoidable-prompt restitution was ordered.

An officer of the Treasury Department, detailed for that purpose, was sent to the State of Louisiana, where charges of improper practices on the part of our timber agent had been preferred with particular urgency. The elaborate report rendered by that officer not only justifies the conduct of the agent of this department employed in that State, who while in the discharge of his duty fell a victim to the yellow fever, but it puts the extent of the depredations committed there and the necessity of their suppression in the clearest light. Complaint was also made that our efforts to arrest the wanton destruction of the forests in some of the motintainous Territories of the Northwest had inflicted great hardship upon the settlers there. But there is information in possession of this department showing that no such hardship resulted from the measures taken; that the price of firewood remained the same; that the settlers were not hindered in providing for their actual necessities, and that the measures of the department were directed only against a class of persons who made the unlawful taking and selling of timber from the public lands in large quantities a regular business and a source of profit to themselves. In several States, especially in the South, the local authorities were resorted to by interested parties for the purpose of hampering and baffling the efforts of this department by a variety of expedients, in some instances not without effect. In spite of these difficulties it may be said that, in some parts of the country at least, the depredations on the timber lands of the United States have already been greatly limited in extent. But we cannot close our eyes to the fact that anything like complete success in suppressing these unlawful practices is impossible, unless the efforts made by this department for the protection of the public property meet with hearty co-operation on the part of the legislative branch of the government. Actual experience enables me to say that the want of such co-operation has been and will always be an encouragement to the depredators to persist in their lawless operations and to defy the authorities.

As to the importance of this subject I shall add but little to what I said in my last annual report. The disastrous consequences which always follow the destruction of the forests of a country are known to every well-informed man. These consequences will inevitably come upon us in a comparatively short period of time, considering the rapidity with which the timber growth of this country is being swept away, unless legislation be adopted systematically to arrest this indiscriminate spoliation. In accordance with the suggestions which, in this respect, I offered in my last annual report, a bill was introduced in the Senate (Senate bill No. 609) which provides that all timber-bearing lands, chiefly valuable for the timber upon them, shall be withdrawn from sale or other disposition under existing laws, and be held by the government with a view to preventing indiscriminate destruction and waste, and to the preservation of the young timber and the reproduction of the forests. The bill further provides ample means by which settlers on the public lands and miners can procure timber and firewood to supply their wants, with or without the soil, at minimum rates. It also provides for the sale of timber at reasonable prices for manufacturing purposes and for export. It finally provides for the appointment of a number of officers to execute its provisions under the direction of this department.

While I have no doubt that this bill may be improved in many respects, I adhere to the opinion that it is practicable and that its enactment into a law and its faithful execution would bring a large revenue into the Treasury, while averting from this country very disastrous experiences and securing great and lasting benefits to our people. This bill was not acted upon at the last session of Congress, and I again invite to it that attention which the importance of this great public interest merits.

While no legislation applicable to all parts of the country with regard

to this subject was had, two bills of a local character were passed, one "authorizing the citizens of Colorado, Nevada, and the Territories to fell and remove timber on the public domain for mining and domestic purposes,” and one for the sale of timber lands in the States of California and Oregon and in Washington Territory.”

In the opinion of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, which is on record in this department, these two acts are more calculated to hasten the destruction of the forests in the States and Territories named than to secure the preservation of them. The first above-mentioned act provides in its first section

That all citizens of the United States and other persons, bona fide residents of the State of Colorado or Nevada, or either of the Territories of New Mexico, Arizona, Utali, Wyoming, Dakota, Idaho, or Montana, and all other mineral districts of the United States, shall be, and are hereby, authorized and permitted to fell and remove, for building, agricultural, mining, and other domestic purposes, any timber or other trees growing or being on the public lands, said lands being mineral, and not subject to entry under existing laws of the United States, except for mineral entry, in either of said States, Territories or districts in which such citizens or persons may be at the time bona fide residents, subject to such rules and regulations as the Secretary of the Interior may prescribe for the protection of the timber and of the undergrowth growing upon such lands, and for other purposes: Prorided, That the provisions of this act shall not extend to railroad corporations.

The second section makes it the duty of the register and receiver of any local land office in whose district any mineral land may be situated, to ascertain from time to time whether any timber is being cut or used upon such lands, except for the purposes authorized by this act, within their respective land districts, and, if so, they shall immediately notify the Commissioner of the General Land Office of that fact.

Of this act the Commissioner of the General Land Office, in a letter addressed to the Secretary of the Interior, expresses the following opinion:

It is a fart well known that while almost all the timber-bearing land in thoso States and all the Territories, except Dakota and Washington, is regarded as mineral, only a small portion is so in reality. The effect of this bill will, in my opinion, be to Prvent the survey and sale of any of the timber lands, or the timber upon the lans, in the States and Territories named, thus cutting off large prospective revimes that might and should be derived from the sale of such lands or the timTuttipon them. It is equivalent to a donation of all the timber lands to the inhal)itants of those States and Territories, which will be found to be the largest donation of the public domain hitherto made by Congress. This bill authorizes the registers and speeivers of the land offices in the several districts in which the lanıls are situated to make investigations without any specific directions from the Secretary of the Interior or the Commissioner of the General Land Office, to settle and adjust thrir own accounts, and retain from the moneys coming into their hands arising fritu sales of lands such amounts as they may expend or cause to be expended. This method will be found exceedingly expensive and result in no good. Experience uns shown that the machinery of the land offices is wholly inadequate to prevent depandations,

The “* Rules and Regulations" issued in pursuance of the first section of this act are to be found in the report of the ('ommissioner of the General Land Office, herewith presented. These rules, drawn up “ with a view to and the intention of preserving the young timber and undergrowth upon the mineral lands of the United States, and to the end that the mountain sides may not be left denuded and barren of the timber and undergrowth necessary to prevent the precipitation of the rain-fall and melting snows in floods upon the fertile arable lands in the valleys below, thus destroying the agricultural and pasturage interests of the mineral and mountainous portions of the country," make it the duty of registers and receivers to see to it that trespassers upon timber lands, not mineral, be duly reported, that upon mineral lands only timber of a certain size be cut, and that young trees and undergrowth be protected, and that timber be cut only for the purposes mentioned in the act. These 6 Rules and Regulations” will be enforced with all the power left to this department to that end, in order to save what may be saved. But I deem it my duty to call attention to the fact that, as set forth by the Commissioner in the letter above quoted, the machinery of the land offices is utterly inadequate to accomplish the object in view.

After a careful consideration of the above-named act and its probable effects, I venture the prediction that the permission given the inhabitants of the States and Territories named therein, to take timber from the public lands in any quantity and wherever they can find it, for all purposes except export and sale to railroads, will be taken advantage of, not only by settlers and miners to provide economically for their actual current wants, but by persons who will see in this donation a chance to make money quickly; that it will stimulate a wasteful consumption beyond actual need and lead to wanton destruction; that the machinery left to this department to prevent or repress such waste and destruction through the enforcement of the rules above mentioned will prove entirely inadequate; that as a final result in a few years the mountain sides of those States and Territories will be stripped bare of the timber now growing upon them, with no possibility of its reproduction, the soil being once washed off from the slopes, and that the irreparable destruction of the forests will bring upon those States all the calamities experienced from the same causes in districts in Europe and Asia similarly situated.

It appears to me, therefore, that the repeal of the above-named act, and the substitution therefor of a law embodying a more provident policy, similar to that of the above-mentioned Senate bill No. 609, is in the highest degree desirable. If the destruction of the forests in those States be permitted, the agricultural and pasturage interests in the mnountainous regions will inevitably be sacrificed, and the valleys in the course of time become unfit for the habitation of men.

The act for the sale of timber lands in the States of California, Oregon, and Nevada, and in Washington Territory, passed by Congress at its last session, is, in a letter addressed to this department, commented upon

by the Commissioner of the General Land Office in the following language:

It is a bill of local and not general application to the timber lands of the United States, and adds one more to the already numerous special acts for the disposal of the public domain. The price fixed is too low, as much of the land is worth from five to fifty dollars per acre.

l'nder the provisions of the bill the timber lands will, in my opinion, be speedily taken up and pass into the hands of speculators, notwithstanding the provisions to prevent such result. The soil should not be sold with the timber where the land is not fit for cultivation. Only the timber of a certain size should be sold, and the soil and young timber retained with a view to the reproduction of the forests. The bill should have limited the sale of the lands to persons who have farms and homes within the state or Territory, and it onght to have required the purchasers to show affirmatirely that they had need of timber for domestic uses.

The last clause of the second section will permit any person applying for a tract of timber land and securing a certificate from the register, to sell his right and interest therein immediately, and the purchaser, although it may have been obtained by perjury, may be entitled to a patent for the land.

Section 5 provides that any person prosecuted under section 2461 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, may be relieved of the penalty by the payment of two dollars and fifty cents ($2.50) per acre for the land trespassed upon. This is objectionable, for the reason that the penalty fixed is altogether inadequate, and does not require the payment of costs of prosecution, which are often greater than the penalty to be collected. It should require that the trespasser should pay for the entire subdivision trespassed upon.

There can be no doubt that if this bill becomes a law it will be taken advantage of, by persons who want to make money quickly, to acquire the timber lands under its provisions at a very low price, and strip the mountain sides of their forest growth as rapidly as possible. How disastrous such a result will be to these States and Territories need not be detailed here.

I fully concur with the Commissioner of the General Land Office in his opinion thus expressed.

The traditions of a time are still alive when the area covered with virgin forest in this country was so great that the settler might consider the trees on the land he occupied as a mere difficulty to be overcome and to be swept out of his way. But circumstances have very materially changed. We are now rapidly approaching the day when the forests of this country will no longer be sufficient to supply our home, wants, and it is the highest time that the old notion that the timber on the public lands belongs to anybody and everybody, to be cut down and taken off at pleasure, should give way. A provident policy, having our future wants in view, cannot be adopted too soon. Every year lost inflicts upon the economical interests of this country an injury, which in trery part of the country will be seriously felt, but in the mountainous regions threatens to become especially disastrous and absolutely irreparable. We ought to learn something from the calamitous experiences of other parts of the world. If the necessity of such a provident policy be not recognized while it is time, the neglect of it will be painfully ap. preciated when it is too late. I am so deeply impressed with the importance of this subject, that as long as I remain entrusted with my presen: duties I shall never cease to urge it upon the attention of Congress.

« PreviousContinue »