Tree Nurseries and the Enabling Acts: Examples of State and Federal Responses to the Unregulated Timber Industry Prior to the Great Depression

Tree Nurseries and the Enabling Acts: Examples of State and Federal Responses to the Unregulated Timber Industry Prior to the Great Depression

Paul Fischer


Professor McCollough

Tree Nurseries and the Enabling Acts: Examples of State and Federal Responses to the Unregulated Timber Industry Prior to the Great Depression

The process of altering the landscape requires resources, and historically the dominant forms of construction, whether for the famous log cabins of the American frontier or the scaffolding for cement and steel structures which punctuate and bridge the distances in this nation even today, have been dependent on the timber industry. Previous discussion has been offered on the technical innovations which transformed the timber industry as well as the face and character of the United States, it is now time to move a generation forward and see the effects these innovations had on the new industry and the resources over which it presides. By examining the Green Mountain State Forest News during its heyday between the years of 1925 and 1935 it will be possible to retrospectively analyze the changing industry in a momentous period in American history, during the onset of the Great Depression and tail end of the Roaring 20s. The expansion and, for all intensive purposes, initiation of reforestation efforts on behalf of state tree nurseries will be viewed as an example of local regulation and offsetting of industrial efforts to increase production while the advent of National Forests and subsequent Enabling Acts passed by states under Calvin Coolidge’s presidency will be critically acclaimed as a fundamentally constitutional regulation of each state’s timber industries, without which would most certainly have yielded devastating effects on the national economy under the conditions of the Great Depression.

Reforestation and Forest Nurseries

The Green Mountain State Forest News preceded the January edition of their second volume, 1926, with “SET YOUR IDLE FOREST LAND TO WORK BY REFORESTATION” (Vermont Forest Service, V. 2: 1), and this was a process which had begun many years earlier, around the turn of the century. At that time, only thirty five thousand trees were being planted in Vermont. Just a couple decades later, this had become thirteen million with two million planted through two state tree nurseries (Vermont Forest Service, V. 2: 1 August). That same month, the Calvin Coolidge State Forest was authorized (Vermont Forest Service, V. 2: 5) and a fundamental change in the manner in which forestry in the United States was carried out occurred. President Calvin Coolidge entreated listeners to “treat our forests as crops , to be used but also to be renewed” as a domestic crisis was likely becoming apparent in the form of the rampant and careless deforestation occurring at the time (Vermont Forest Service, V. 2: 4 January).

While timbering issues were one cause of deforestation in Vermont, other concerns existed as well. In January of 1926 it is reported that 10% of losses were due to insects and disease, while half of forest fires were due to “carelessness”, primarily on railroads. During this period of prohibition, this may be that this is doublespeak for workplace inebriation. Accidental sources of railroad fueled forest fires began with sparks flying from the wheels of trains, which were inches long. This would later provide an incentive to change the design of elevated rails and local rail commuters (McCullough, 2016). Different solutions were advised for the various problems which faced forests which ranged from the advice of a W.E. Buton, the State Entomologist of Connecticut, to use Blackleaf-40, with the active ingredient of nicotine sulfate and soap to combat insect populations (Vermont Forest Service, V. 1: 12, December). This may also have been apparent in Fish and Game surveys as detrimental to bird populations, a demonstration of the particular relationship between hunter and prey (Modu) which will be returned to as the wildlife also plays a certain role in securing the lands for the National Forests that may have stopped the collapse of American ecosystems. The new insecticide began use in 1926 in Vermont, and replaced the lead based insecticide used previously (Vermont Forest Service, V. 1: 5, July).

Consequences of Spanish Deforestation and European Input

One of the incentives for change in the industry were the efforts of European foresters. A speech in Vermont outlined an official’s trip to Spain, and the total devastation to ecosystems and economic capabilities as a result of widespread deforestation there (Vermont Forest Service, V. 2: 6, December). Without the appropriate husbandry from humans to the forests, the crops and wider ecosystems also failed. With them dropped entire economic developments. Speculative investments to restore the glory of Spain were lost. In order to avoid such a future in the United States, or at least Vermont, this official recommended a regimen of “Study, Service, and Sacrifice” for students and future foresters. The amount of lumber cut in Vermont at the time was 112 million, outstripping reforestation efforts by a factor of nearly ten (Vermont Forest Service, V. 3: 2, July). While research abroad indicated that use of 35 seed trees (5) instead of 6 seed trees per acre (Vermont Forest Service, V. 1: 8, March) could mitigate damages, the consequences of deforestation were yet to be firmly established in the United States or Vermont. The number of trees which would have to be bought from a tree nursery in order to reforest an acre is 1200 (Vermont Forest Service, V. 1: 12, October), so considerable savings were found in either scenario.

Without complete social acceptance of these beliefs, however, there was sufficient evidence for state legislatures and the President to act. In 1925, funds were secured from Congress to request permission from private and state organizations for the Federal Government to purchase land on sovereign territory of the states for the purpose of the preservation of forests and the “nation’s natural resources” and an Enabling Act was proposed and passed in the Vermont Statehouse with a call for opinions occurring in January 1925 (Vermont Forest Service, V. 1: 5-6) and legislation being passed in March of the same year, just in time for Forest Protection Week (Vermont Forest Service, V. 1: 1). A critical part of passage of this Enabling Act was competition with New Hampshire for state forest lands and the resources that came with them.

Political Legislation as a Cause of Preservation of the Landscape

By examining the political process which allowed the preservation of our nation and state’s forests, a historiography of changing perspectives is offered in regards to natural resources. This gives constitutional and fundamental grounds for the institutions maintained in current legislation and operations. From the Forest Service to the Bureau of Forestry, many of these institutions remain. 

New resources have entered the economy and horizons of human exploitation, from dangerous new methods of extraction from the earth to safely extracting energy from dangerous radioactive elements and even, perhaps one day, utilization of the boundless expanses beyond our atmosphere. The trend to understand our landscape and the economic potential it holds remains critical to the success of the United States. Implementation into the political process is, for America, not extraneous but intrinsic to the process of development, growth, and security.


McCullough, William. History on the Land., 2016. Lecture.

Modu, S., B. S. Binta, and A. U. Mani. “Effect Of Lead Exposure On Egg Production, Quality And Hatchability In Quail Birds (Coturnix Japonica).”Nigerian Quarterly Journal of Hospital Medicine 9, no. 3 (1999): 234-237.

Vermont. Forest Service. Green Mountain State Forest News., 1924-36.

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