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Timbering. From R. Lewis, p. 17. Blanton Forest in Harlan Co. KY is one of the few remaining stands of old growth. Lilly Cornett Woods in Letcher Co. is another. Former EKU President Bob Kustra next to a white oak. This is the understory in Lilly Cornett Woods.

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  • Often logs would be lost along the way, left to rot on the banks.

  • The seasonal nature of this logging, and the limited transportation, helped keep the exploitation of the forests in check.

  • Nevertheless, the supply was sufficient to support major sawmill operations at major river port cities.



  • Railroads bring a thirty-five year period during which the forests of Appalachia are devastated.

  • One major player is the same Alexander A. Arthur who creates Middlesboro KY.

  • With financial backing from Glasgow Scotland and Capetown South Africa, he purchased 60,000 acres in TN and 120,000 acres in NC.



R. Lewis, p. 83 moved rapidly into Appalachia.


R. Lewis, p. 84. moved rapidly into Appalachia.


  • The rapid deforestation of Appalachia at the turn of the century reflects not only railroad development and growing demand for timber, but a transformation of American law. Prior to the Civil War, the legal rule of sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas (so use your own as not to injure that of another) was strictly upheld.

  • After the Civil War, and especially in the 1890s, courts increasingly favored industry over individual farmers and property owners.


“Thus the eastern panhandle counties of Berkeley and Jefferson were 90 percent cleared in 1894; that same year the northern counties of Hancock, Brooke, Ohio, Monongalia, and Harrison, with their gentler hills and navigable waterways, also were 80 to 90 percent cleared fortown and industry or cultivation and grazing. From the percentage of the land improved, it is clear that these were commercial farms rather than self-sufficient farms because the subsistence farm economy required two-thirds of the land to be constantly unimproved.

“Conversely, the rural mountain counties remained covered with dense forests at the beginning of the industrial transition. The same State Board of Agriculture data for 1894 show Tucker County to be only 45 percent clear, although already the leading industry in the county was lumbering rather than agriculture or grazing. Hardy County was only 32 percent cleared, Randolph 30 percent, Pocahontas 33 percent, Pendleton 25 percent, Webster only 15 percent. Greenbrier and Monroe were among the earliest settled of those counties that straddled the mountain spine with long-established ties to Virginia. Even here, however, the land was only 50 to 60 percent improved in 1894.” (R. Lewis, p. 246)


“Even though deforestation increased the amount of land improved for farming, this advantage was offset by the increase in the number of farms and the decline in average farm size. In Pocahontas County the number of farms grew from 682 in 1880 to 1,198 in 1910, but average farm size fell from 451 acres to 195.7 acres; in Randolph County the total number of farms increased less dramatically from 1,186 to 1,856, but the average size fell from 360 acres to 155.8 acres; and in Tucker County the total number of farms increased from 385 to 828 during this period, but average farm size declined from 223 to 112.7 acres. This pattern mirrored statewide development, where, as the population increased, so too the average farm size declined from 163 acres in 1880 to 103.7 acres in 1910” (R. Lewis, p. 251)



Forest fires
Forest Fires were reduced by 1900 to no more than 225,000 acres.

“The vast majority of forest fires during the logging era originated because of industrial activity. In late 1908 the most extensive body of data yet compiled was gathered by the U.S. Forest Service as part of a national study. According to the Report of the West Virginia Conservation Commission, 1908, which cited the data, "the first serious fire occurred on August 28, and from that time there was no cessation for three months." Every county in the state was affected by forest fires. Although some of them were minor, the total reported in 1908 reached 710; 5,821 men were called into service to fight the fires, which burned an area of 1,703,850 acres representing 943,515,000 board feet of lumber worth $2,903,500. More than one-tenth of the entire surface of the state was burned over. Total financial losses from fire in 1908 were estimated at more than $5 million. The origin of these fires is instructive: 71 percent were from locomotives; 20 percent were started by sawmills and campers; 3 percent were set to improve the range for livestock; 2 percent were incendiary; and 4 percent were from other causes. In short, more than 90 percent of the fires in West Virginia in 1908 were caused by locomotives and lumber operations.” (R. Lewis, p. 265)


  • “William W. Ashe, the first secretary of the National Forest Reservation Commission (the federal agency that would later become the National Forest Service), estimated that in 1891 alone between 800,000 and 1.2 million acres of woodland burned in North Carolina due to unchecked forest fires.” (Davis, p. 168)


Soil erosion
Soil Erosion Forest Reservation Commission (the federal agency that would later become the National Forest Service), estimated that in 1891 alone between 800,000 and 1.2 million acres of woodland burned in North Carolina due to unchecked forest fires.” (Davis, p. 168)

“One survey completed in the 1930s concluded that accelerated soil erosion affected 90 percent of the state’s 15.5 million acres of land surface; nearly 10 million acres had lost between 25 and 75 percent of their topsoil, and 4 million acres had lost more than 75 percent.” (R. Lewis, p. 270)


  • In 1900 it was well known that forests controlled flooding and prevented soil erosion.

  • Horace Ayres and William Ashe, in a US Geological Survey Report: “The destruction of the earth cover prevented water from fully penetrating the earth. The roots of trees penetrate deeply into the subsoil, and as they decay leave a network of underground water channels…the mosses and humus of a well-conditioned forest form wet blankets, often a foot thick, the function of which is apparent.”


From R. Lewis, p. 271 and prevented soil erosion.


From R. Lewis, p. 272. and prevented soil erosion.


From R. Lewis, p. 277 and prevented soil erosion.


  • On March 1, 1911, Congress passed the Weeks Act, authorizing the purchase of “forested, cut-over, or denuded lands within the watersheds of navigable streams …necessary to the regulation of the flow of navigable streams.”

  • While some of the acreage purchased for the national forests were virgin, the vast majority had been clear cut.


  • Large tracts were purchased from timber companies for $7 per acre. Smaller farmers, finding their land surrounded by federal lands, were often offered as little as $4-$5 per acre.

  • By 1930 4 million acres were held by the Forest Service. Today, 5 million acres of the southern Appalachian range is held as National Forests.


Gifford pinchot
Gifford Pinchot acre. Smaller farmers, finding their land surrounded by federal lands, were often offered as little as $4-$5 per acre.

  • Pinchot (1865-1946), after graduating from Yale University in 1889, went abroad to study at L’Ecole Nationale Forestiere in Nancy, France.

  • He became head of the Division of Forestry in 1898, and was appointed by Theodore Roosevelt as the first Chief Forester of the National Forest Service.


  • Pinchot became an advocate of “wise use,” and hardly a conservationist.

  • As Davis writes (p. 175), “As early as 1905, Pinchot, the original founder of the U.S. Forest Service, wrote that the primary purpose of forest reserves was for insuring "a perpetual supply of timber for home industries." Pinchot believed that the timber industry, as the supporter of "economic forestry" over "scenic preservation," should and would eventually return to the harvested areas.


In fact, timbering was allowed almost immediately in non cutover areas and, shortly thereafter, in areas that had been discernibly thinned or culled. By 1939 millions of board feet of timber were once again leaving the southern Appalachian region, an output that rose even more dramatically after the start of the Second World War. Ironically, the ability of the mountains to fully heal themselves remains jeopardized today by Forest Service policies that continue to ignore the cumulative effects of timber harvesting on mountain watersheds. Some contemporary observers in the mountains believe that the agency continues to violate the original intent of the 1911 Weeks Act and are taking great measures to stop the current destruction of public forests by the timber industry.” (Davis, 175)


  • The displacement of farmers by the large timber companies and then by the Forest Service forced locals to either enter the lumber and coal camps as wage laborers or to leave the area.

  • Again, Donald Davis:

  • The consolidation of land into large private and federal timber holdings had a profound impact on the subsistence economy of the mountain region. Farm sizes decreased considerably as fathers found it more and more difficult to acquire new lands for their sons and daughters or maintain even a modicum of productivity on their own lands. As a result, farmers


often and then by the Forest Service forced locals to either enter the lumber and coal camps as wage laborers or to leave the area.sold portions of their property to pay local taxes or leased it to younger tenants who sharecropped the land. As noted in chapter 6, the average farm size in the mountains in 1880 was 187 acres, of which one fourth was cultivated, about 20 percent was in pasture, and the remainder was in forested woodlands. By 1910 the average farm across the region had dropped to fewer than 90 acres, which left very little forested land to be used for grazing hogs and cattle, collecting firewood, or pursuing any other land­use activities that involved forest cover. This trend continued for several decades, particularly in areas where there were considerable national forest purchases. In Rabun County, Georgia, for example, farm sizes decreased by 39 percent between 1910 and 1920. Buncombe County, North Carolina, saw a 37 percent decrease, and Fannin County, Georgia, witnessed a 22 percent


reduction in individual farm acreage. By 1930 the average farm size in the southern Appalachians was only 76 acres. The small, marginally self-sufficient mountain homestead of the 1930s was largely a by-product of these shifting economic and landownership patterns, created in no small part by the wanton destruction of our native mountain forests. Now owned exclusively by private and federal timber interests, the surrounding forest was no longer the woodland commons that had for centuries been used and shared by a variety of people for a number of different land-use activities. Timber speculation, along with new fence laws introduced in state legislatures by railroad and timber interests, had greatly narrowed the range of subsistence possibilities for mountaineers and their


families. As Gifford Pinchot said of the former residents of the 100,000-acre tract bought in 1886 by millionaire George Vanderbilt for a private hunting preserve: "They regarded this country as their country, their common. And it was not surprising, for they needed everything usable in it--pasture, fish, game--to supplement the very meager living they were able to scratch from the soil." On those lands mountain farmers had not only herded cattle but had also gathered chest­nuts, picked berries, hunted, fished, and dug ginseng. To the mountaineers the surrounding forest was much more than board feet on the stump: the mountain woodlands were a living matrix of plants, animals, and shared memories.” (178-179)


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