Chapter XII. "The Groves Were God's First Temples"
If the people of this century continue the destruction of trees as they are doing at present, a hundred years from now this will be a world without forests, a woodless, treeless waste. What a desolate picture is this! What a grave charge will the people of the future have to bring against us that we recklessly destroy the trees, one of God's most beautiful and useful gifts to man, without even an endeavor to replace the loss by replanting!
During the last hundred years the American lumber belt has moved westward over a wide space. In the early days of our history nearly the entire supply came from Maine, and what interesting stories we have of those brave pioneer loggers and settlers! Gradually the noble woods which furnished the tall, smooth masts for which American ships were famous, were destroyed; and the ringing ax blows were then heard in the forests about the Great Lakes and in the middle Southern states. This supply is by no means exhausted, but to-day the heart of the lumber interest is on the Pacific coast.
Around the great central valley which is drained by the Sacramento and the San Joaquin rivers, six hundred and forty miles long, lie mountain ranges on whose slopes are some of the noblest forests of the world. To the north of the central valley the trees of the east and west join, forming a heavily wooded belt quite across the state.
In the trade, the greatest demand is for lumber of the pine and fir trees, and of these California has as many species as Europe and Asia combined. She has, indeed, only a little less than one fifth of all the lumber supply of the United States. Her most valuable tree for commerce is the sugar pine. It attains a diameter of twelve feet or more and is often two hundred feet high. But the most interesting trees of California and of the world are the Sequoias, the oldest of all living things. Very far back, in the time of which we have no written history, in the moist days of gigantic vegetation and animals, the Sequoias covered a large portion of the earth's surface; then came the great ice overflow, and when that melted away, almost the only things living of the days of giants were the Sequoias of middle and upper California, and those on some two thousand acres over the Oregon line.
The Sequoia sempervirens, which is commonly called redwood, is distributed along the Coast Range, the trees thriving only when they are constantly swept by the sea fogs. For lumber this tree is nearly as valuable as the sugar pine. From Eureka to San Diego, this is the material of which most of the houses are built. Because of its rich color and the high polish it takes, especially the curly and grained portions, its value for cabinet work is being more and more appreciated. On account of the presence of acid and the absence of pitch and rosin in its composition, it resists fire and is therefore a safe wood for building. When the Baldwin Hotel in San Francisco, a six-story building of brick and wood, burned down, two redwood water tanks on the top of the only brick wall that was left standing, were found to be hardly charred and quite water-tight.
It is the redwood which furnishes the largest boards for the lumber trade. Not long ago a man in the lumber region built his office of six boards taken from one of the trees. The boards were twelve by fourteen feet, and there was one for each wall, one for the floor, and one for the ceiling. Windows and doors were cut out where desired.
In the heart of the redwood and pine forests there are some thirty mill plants, and they own about half of the timber district. The methods of lumbering are exceedingly wasteful. Scarcely half of the standing timber of a tract is taken by the loggers and what is left is often burned or totally neglected. Replanting is unthought of and the young trees are treated as a nuisance.
Three fourths of the forests of California grow upon side hills, generally with an incline of from fifteen to thirty degrees. When the trees are gone, therefore, the rain soon washes away the soil, leaving the rocks bare. When the next rainy season comes, the water, not being able to sink into the earth, and so gradually find its way to the streams, rushes down the hillsides in torrents, flooding the smaller water courses. Then the rivers rise and overflow, causing great damage to property; but their waters quickly subside, and when the dry season comes they have not sufficient depth for the passage of ships of commerce. The total destruction of the forests would soon destroy the navigability of the principal water highways of the state, while another serious result would be the lessening of the water supply for irrigation.
The second variety of the Sequoia, the gigantea, or "big tree," as it is called, grows much farther inland than the redwood, being found on the western slopes of the Sierras. There are ten separate groves of these trees, from the little company of six in southern Placer County to the southernmost Sequoia, two hundred and sixty miles away on the Tule River. The whole put together would not make more than a few hundred thousand of extra-sized trees, and of the giants themselves not more than five hundred. These rise as high as three hundred and fifty feet, and are from twenty to thirty feet through. Near the Yosemite the stage road passes through the hollow center of one of those monsters. In a grove owned by the government some cavalry men, with their horses, lined up on a "big tree" log, and it easily held fourteen, each horse's nose touching the next one's tail.