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28 January 2011

American Wealth: Timber

The history of the United States is fundamentally a history of rapid exploitation of immensely valuable natural resources. The possession and exploitation of these resources have given most of the distinctive traits to American character, economic development, and even political and social institutions. Whatever preeminence the United States may have among the nations of the world, in industrial activity, efficiency and enterprise, in standards of comfort in living, in wealth, and even in such social and educational institutions as are dependent upon great wealth, must be attributed to the possession of these great natural resources; and the maintenance of our preeminence in these respects is dependent upon a wise and economical use of remaining resources. Thus the question of conservation is one of the most important questions before the American people ...
John Ise, The United States Forest Policy (1920), xix.

Remember this: this text criticizing wasteful over-cutting of timber and other wanton exploitation of the sources of American wealth was published in 1920. Its criticism of wrong-headed government actions was published a dozen years prior to the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt to the office of President of the United States. Long before publicly funded welfare existed for the poor and destitute, it existed for the railroads. These railroads, and companies with which they made sweet deals (Weyerhaeuser), came to own most of the nation's timber resources.

The three largest timber holdings in the United States— those of the Southern Pacific, the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, and the Northern Pacific—aggregated about 9,000,000 acres of timber land—since the forfeiture of the Southern Pacific lands in Oregon, only about 7,000,000 acres—some of it among the finest in the world. The five largest holdings in the country included 12,794,000 acres, an average of 2,560,000 acres each. Among holdings smaller than these were 9 of from 500,000 to 1,500,000 acres, averaging almost 1,000,000 acres each; 27 holdings of from 300,000 to 500,000 acres each; 48 holdings of from 150,000 to 300,000 acres; 124 of from 75,000 to 150,000 acres; and 520 holdings of between 18,000 and 75,000 acres. Thus 733 holders owned in fee a total of 71,521,000 acres of timber land and land owned in connection with or in the vicinity of this timber land—an average of nearly 100,000 acres each. There were also 961 smaller holders owning a total of 6,731,000 acres, an average for each of 7,000 acres—the equivalent of forty homesteads. This makes a total of over 78,000,000 acres owned in fee by 1,694 holders—nearly one twentieth of the land area of the United States, from the Canadian to the Mexican border.
John Ise, The United States Forest Policy (1920), 317.

1 comment:

Mark in Spokane said...

Well, crony-capitalism isn't anything new, unfortunately. It is has been around for a looooong time. Of course, part of the give-away to the railroads was in no small part an incentive to get them to build out into the wilderness to begin with. But, be that as it may, those kind of public-private partnerships usually aren't in the public interest. As we continue to learn thanks to the Obama administration's various bailout projects with big business.

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