The Future of the Turpentine Industry.
In a communication to Garden and Forest of July 10, 1895, L. J. Vance gives his opinions of the "Future of the Long-leaf Pine Belt," and as this is intimately connected with the turpentine industry, we reproduce it as follows:
A few weeks ago, when I was in the pine district of the South, every evening the sky was illumined by a dull red glare, and in the daytime the horizon was obscured by a thin veil of smoky haze. The cause of this was the turpentine industry, which has now reached its busiest season.
Few people who have not been in what is called "the long-leaf pine belt" of the South can have any real idea of the extent of the damage done to the country by the turpentine workers and by the lumbermen, both of whom conduct their business on what has been bluntly called "the robbing system." They have left immense areas of land robbed not only of its natural resources, but in a worse condition for clearing and culture than before their invasion. Such is, without doubt, the case of many square miles in the two Carolinas, in Georgia, in Alabama and in Louisiana.
The result is that the most bare and barren places in all the South are those that have been visited by the army of turpentine gatherers. Every Northern visitor familiar with well-ordered and cultivated farmlands and houses is struck by the great tracts of Southern country on which there is no vegetation of any value. These wastes are deserted and uninhabited, except here and there by the negro's lonely cabin.
The loss from fires is enormous. The turpentine workers are so careless and indifferent as to allow fires to run through the tracts in which they have worked. The resin on the scarified surface of the trees burns like kerosene; a spark, ablaze, and all at once a disastrous conflagration is sweeping through the pine forests with great fury, destroying millions of feet of marketable timber, and leaving hundreds of acres a scene of awful ruin.
This is no highly-colored story, but a plain statement of what has been going on in the pine belt for years. Now and then protests have been raised against the reckless manner in which these forests are being destroyed, and yet very little has been done either by private or by public action to protect one of the greatest resources of the Southern States.
This is the more remarkable when we consider the enormous wealth represented by the long-leaf pine belt. There is a strip of pine forest about one hundred miles wide that begins in North Carolina and follows the Atlantic and Gulf Coast plain to Texas, crossing six States, and covering an area of about 130,000 square miles. At a rough estimate, there may be 50,000,000,000 feet standing in this area, and if we take the values of timber and turpentine, the annual product of the forests of the South will approach in value the product of her cotton fields.
The pineries of the South now yield naval stores worth nearly $10,000,000 a year. The total production amounts to 340,000 casks of spirits of turpentine, and 1,490,000 barrels of resin. In order to produce this enormous yield, some 2,500,000 acres of pine forest are being worked, and nearly 1,000,000 acres of virgin forest are invaded annually. Now, no one will claim that these pineries are inexhaustible, for there has actually been a decline in the production of naval stores within the past eight or ten years. The reckless cutting and tapping of trees have made great inroads into the magnificent stretch of pine. Railroads have opened up many new tracts of timber, the old water-mills have been replaced by steam saw-mills, and, when the supply in the neighborhood was exhausted, tram-roads have been built or the steam mills taken to new territory. Thus, the work of consumption and denudation has been carried on to such an extent that fears are just now beginning to be entertained that these valuable forests will be sacrificed to the greed for immediate and temporary gain.
The truth is, the long-leaf pine belt is the backbone of the South Atlantic States. For 150 years it has been the chief resource of the people who dwell in the belt. The production of pitch and tar was begun in North Carolina during colonial days, and, as the State took the lead in the industry, its people were called "tar heels." There has been a heavy decline in the production of naval stores in North Carolina. This decline, amounting to fully 40 per cent., is due simply to the exhaustion of the pine forests. Of course, much has been written on the destructive agency of the turpentine industry, and many suggestions have been made regarding changes and improvements which are necessary. It is agreed that the turpentine industry, as carried on in the United States, results in great loss and damage, directly and indirectly. Compared with the way in which the French gather turpentine, our methods seem crude, wasteful and almost irrational.
The American turpentine workers still continue to follow the old-time methods of tapping the trees for their sap. They have made few changes, and have adopted few improvements. They cut a deep, broad "box" at the base of the tree, and then the surface above the box is laid bare. The trees are worked for four or five seasons, when they become practically exhausted of their sap. The forest is then abandoned to the elements, to the bark-beetles and pine-borers, and, finally, the splendid trees are blown, burned or cut down. The French turpentine worker cuts no deep box into the tree, but uses a pail, into which the resin or crude turpentine is conducted by a gutter. He makes only a small chip about three or four inches wide, and this is enlarged from time to time. After five seasons' working, the trees are given a rest of several years, and so, alternating periods of tapping and of rest, a tree can be profitably worked for fully fifty years. The French also take measures to regenerate their pine forests and to keep the trees strong and uniform.
If our turpentine workers understood the first principles of forestry they would modify their destructive methods. With more knowledge based on experience, the day will come when the Southern people will see that good husbandry consists in management, not destruction, of their forest resources; that some precautions and some protection are necessary against fire, as well as individual greed; that the present policy of the turpentine workers is lamentably wasteful and short-sighted; in other words, that it is more profitable to work the pine forests for fifty years, instead of five years; and, finally, that the lumber and turpentine industries, while changing the face of Nature, and even the climate of the country, are slowly, but surely, making loss and trouble for this and succeeding generations.