Remarks at a Meeting of the American Forest Congress

January 05, 1905

It is a pleasure to greet the members of the American Forest Congress. You have made, by your coming, a meeting which is without parallel in the history of forestry. For the first time the great business and forest interests of the nation have joined together, through delegates altogether worthy of the organizations they represent, to consider their individual and their common interests in the forest. This meeting may well be called a congress of forest users, for that you users of the forest are come together to consider how best to combine use with conservatism, is to me full of the most hopeful promise possible for our forests.

The producers, the manufacturers and the great common carriers of the nation long failed to realize their true and vital relation to the great forests of the United States, and forests and industries both suffered from that failure. But the time of indifference and misunderstanding has gone by. Your coming is a very great step toward the solution of the forest problem—a problem which cannot be settled until it is settled right. And it cannot be settled right until the forces which bring about that settlement come, not from the government, not even from the newspapers and from public sentiment in general, but from the active intelligent and effective interest of the men to whom the forest is important from the business point of view, because they use it and its products, and whose interest is therefore concrete instead of general and diffuse. I do not in the least underrate the power of an awakened public opinion, but in the final test it will be the attitude of the industries of the country which more than anything else will determine whether or not our forests are to be preserved. This is true because by far the greater part of all our forests must pass into the hands of forest users, whether directly or through the government, which will continue to hold some of them, but only as trustees. The forest is for use and its users will decide its future.

The great significance of this congress comes from the fact that henceforth the movement for the conservative use of the forest is to come mainly from within, not from without; from the men who are actively interested in the use of the forest in one way or another, even more than from those whose interest is philanthropic and general. The difference means to a large extent the difference between mere agitation and actual accomplishment and the thing done. We believe that at last forces have been set in motion which will convert the once distant prospect of the conservation of the forest, by wise use, into the practical accomplishment of that great end, and of this most hopeful and significant fact the coming together of this congress is the sufficient proof.

The place of the forest in the life of any nation is far too large to be described in the time at my command. This is particularly true of its place in the United States. The great industries of agriculture, mining, transportation, grazing, and, of course, lumbering are each one of them vitally and immediately dependent upon wood, water or grass from the forest. The manufacturing industries, whether or not wood enters directly into their finished product, are scarcely, if at all, less dependent upon the forest than those whose connection with it is obvious and direct. Wood is an indispensable part of the material structure upon which civilization rests, and civilized life makes continually greater demands upon the forest. We use not less wood, but more. For example, though we consume relatively less wood and relatively more steel or brick or cement in certain industries than was once the case, yet, in every instance which I recall, while the relative proportion is less, the actual increase in the amount of wood used is very great. Thus, the consumption of wooden shipbuilding is far larger than it was before the discovery of the art of building iron ships, because vastly more ships are built. Larger supplies of building lumber are required, directly or indirectly, for use in the construction of the brick and steel and stone structures of great modern cities than were consumed by the comparatively few and comparatively small wooden buildings in the earlier stages of these same cities. Whatever materials may be substituted for wood in certain uses, we may confidently expect that the total demand for wood will not diminish but steadily increase.

It is a fair question, then, whether the vast demands of the future upon our forests are likely to be met. No man is a true lover of his country whose confidence in its progress and greatness is limited to the period of his own life, and we cannot afford for one instant to forget that our country is only at the beginning of its growth. Unless the forests of the United States can be made ready to meet the vast demands which this growth will inevitably bring, commercial disaster is inevitable. The railroads must have ties, and the best opinion of the experts is that no substitute has yet been discovered which will satisfactorily replace the wooden tie. This is largely due to the great and continually increasing speeds at which our trains are run. The miner must have timber or he cannot operate his mine, and in very many cases the profit which mining yields is directly proportionate to the cost of the timber supply. The farmer, East and West, must have timber for numberless uses on his farm, and he must be protected by forest cover upon the headwaters of the streams he uses, from floods in the East, and the lack of water for irrigation in the West. The stockman must have fence posts and very often he must have summer range for his stock in the national forest preserve. In a word, both the production of the great staples upon which our prosperity depends and their movement in commerce throughout the United States are inseparably dependent upon the existence of permanent and suitable supplies from the forest at a reasonable cost.

If the present rate of forest destruction is allowed to continue, a timber famine is inevitable. Fire, wasteful and destructive forms of lumbering and legitimate use are together destroying our forest resources far more rapidly than they are being replaced. What such a famine would mean to each of the industries of the United States it is scarcely possible to imagine. And the period of recovery from the injuries which a timber famine would entail would be measured by the slow growth of the trees themselves. Fortunately, the remedy is a simple one, and your presence here is proof that it is being applied. It is the great merit of the Department of Agriculture in its forest work that its efforts have been directed to enlist the sympathy and co-operation of the users of wood, water and grass, and to show that forestry will pay and does pay, rather than to exhaust itself in the futile attempt to introduce conservative methods by any other means. The department gives advice and assistance, which it will be worth your while to know more about, and its policy is one of helpfulness throughout, and never of hostility and coercion toward any legitimate interest whatsoever. In the very nature of things, it can make little progress apart from you. Whatever it may be possible for the government to accomplish, its work must ultimately fail unless your interest and support give it permanence and power. It is only as the producing and commercial interests of the country come to realize that they need to have trees growing up in the forest not less than they need the product of the trees cut down that we may hope to see the permanent prosperity of both safely assured.

This statement is true not only as to forests in private ownership but as to the national forests as well. Unless the men from the West believe in forest preservation, the Western forests cannot be preserved.

The policy under which the President creates these national forests is a part of the general policy of the administration to give every part of the public lands their highest use. That policy can be given effect in the long run only through the willing assistance of the Western people, and that such assistance will be given in full measure there can no longer be any doubt.

I want to add a word as to the creation of a national forest service, which I have recommended repeatedly to Congress in my messages and especially in the last. I mean the concentration of all the forest work of the government in the Department of Agriculture. As I have had occasion to say over and over again, the policy which this administration is trying to carry out through the creation of such a service is that of making the national forests more actively and more permanently useful to the people of the West, and I am heartily glad to know that Western sentiment supports more and more vigorously the policy of setting aside national forests, the policy of creating a national forest service, and especially the policy of increasing the permanent usefulness of these forest lands to all those who come in contact with them. With what is rapidly getting to be the unbroken sentiment of the West behind this forest policy, and with what is rapidly getting to be the unbroken support of the great industries be hind the general policy of the conservative use of the forest, we have a right to feel that we have entered on an era of great and lasting progress. Much, very much, yet remains to be done; but the future is bright, and the permanence of our timber supplies is far more nearly assured than at any previous time in our history. To the men whom this congress contains and represents this great result is due.

In closing, I wish to thank you who are here, not merely for what you are doing in this particular movement, but for the fact that you are illustrating what I hope I may call the typically American method of meeting questions of great and vital importance to the nation—the method of seeing whether the individuals particularly concerned can not, by getting together and co-operating with the government, do definitely more for themselves than it would be possible for any government under the sun to do for them. I believe in the future of this movement, because I think you have the right combination of qualities—the quality of individual initiative, the quality of individual resourcefulness, combined with the quality that enables you to come together for mutual help, and having so come together to work with the government; and I pledge you in the fullest measure the support of the government in what you are doing.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at a Meeting of the American Forest Congress Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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