Page:U.S. Department of the Interior Annual Report 1880.djvu/36

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34
REPORT OF THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR.

at certain seasons, and sweeping masses of gravel and loose rock into the valleys below, apt to render them incapable of cultivation, while on the mountain sides the forests once destroyed would in most cases never grow up again. Measures instituted at the beginning of this administration to discourage and lessen such evil practices by bringing large depredators to punishment and seizing quantities of timber taken from the public lands for mercantile purposes, were at first received with widespread discontent and opposition.

Gradually the wisdom of the policy which dictated such measures began to be recognized even in many of the districts where the operations of this department had taken place. In every one of my reports I urged this important subject upon the attention of Congress and the country, and now it may be observed that there is scarcely a responsible journal in the United States that has not during the last two years from time to time published articles on the injury inflicted upon the country by rapid and indiscriminate destruction of its forests and the necessity of preserving a fair proportion of them. Many letters from the Western States and Territories are coming to this department, urgently asking that existing evils in this respect be remedied by proper changes in the laws. While this wholesome sentiment upon this important question is rapidly growing up, I regret to say that in spite of the repeated recommendation of the passage of a law to facilitate the prevention of the wasteful devastation of the public timber-lands, and to enable the government to dispose of timber to settlers and miners, as well as for legitimate mercantile purposes under such regulations as would prevent the indiscriminate and permanent destruction of our forests, almost all the legislation that has been had upon this subject consisted in acts relieving those who had committed depredations in the past of their responsibility, and protecting them against the legal consequences of their trespasses. Such laws authorizing the composition of past offenses, might not have appeared objectionable in themselves had they been accompanied by other legislation regulating the cutting of timber on the public lands or the selling of timber from them in such a manner as to render possible at the same time the preservation of such a proportion of the forests as appears necessary for the public good; but without such additional provisions they constituted only an encouragement to trespassers, inasmuch as they were apt to encourage the hope that at a future time similar acts condoning their offenses would be passed. In the absence of the desired legislation nothing remained to this department but to make every possible effort even under such discouraging circumstances, at least to limit the extent of the work of lawless and dangerous destruction, as far as it could be done by executive action with the small means at our disposal.

When I took charge of the Interior Department the only regulation with regard to this subject then in force consisted in a general circular issued on the 24th of December, 1855, by the then Commissioner of the