Texas Heritage, Winter 1985

John Henry: Imagine how the first
people from England felt when they
arrived in this country and saw the
virgin forests-the likes of which the
King had only dreamed of for his shipbuilding.

Until I met Eric Sloane, I had little
knowledge of the importance of those
original trees. Sloane asked me why I
thought the bridges and buildings built
from those trees were still standing.
He told me about the great tithe barns
in Germany that are five-hundred and
six-hundred years old and are still solid
as rock.
Henry Steinmann: There's someone
I'd like to have met. His books for
the first time made a large audience
aware of old barns and buildings and
the woodworking skills it took to handcraft
them.
John Henry: Anyway, imagine
when the pioneers came to America
and were confronted by endless forests.
In Europe, only the elite and aristocracy
had access to that kind of lumber-and
here it was just for the sawing
down.
Dianne: And that was the beginning
of the end for the forests?

Henry:
cutting.

Yes, culminating in clear

John Henry: Clear cuttingwhich
really means gouge the earth
up, and all of the plant life. I'm not a
forestry expert, but as I understand it,
one of the great dangers that confronts
mankind today and spelled the doom
of a whole ecological system in East
Texas, is the clear cutting of virgin forests
and the planting of new pine forests.
What they do is cut down the original
pines and the hardwood trees that
are in the way. For instance, a dogwood
tree has little use to a lumber
man so everything goes. Then they
plant the new pines, in rows like you'd
plant a corn crop, because it's easier to
harvest.

Flatheads cut on an old-growth pine, Circa 1910. Courtesy of Stephen F. Austin State University.

Henry: And, now a fertilizer has
been developed that kills all the hardwood
seedlings.
John Henry: It's one of those shortsighted
things we have engaged in under
the name of making money that
wreaks unspeakable damage on the
ecology of our land. The greed for
lumber and the greed for wood is one
of the least understood factors in the
whole North American experience.
That is what the great timber companies
have done in terms of denuding
the land.
Henry: At one time there were
30,000 square miles of virgin pine forests
in East Texas. It covered 48 counties
and now it's all gone.
John Henry: Actually, one percent
is left. I belong to the Texas Committee
of Natural Resources, and we're
fighting desperately to preserve what's
left.

For the longest time there were no reforestation
programs at all. Interestingly
enough, the first ones came about
during the depression when some
thoughtful person said that the rate
we were stripping the land of trees
could become a health hazard because
of the function forests play on the globe
in terms of oxygen, as well as the fact
that we were losing the aesthetic beauty
of the natural forest. An ecological
wonderland is created where everything
is interrelated, and it's all destroyed
in one fell swoop. Those things
will never grow again. The balance has
been ruined forever.
Dianne: Let's talk about new lumber
compared with the old lumber.
John Henry: Well, the new stuff is
really a synthetic form of lumber. It
has not had the same nutrients nor the
same experience in the ground that the
great ancient trees had.
13

Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Winter 1985. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45443/. Accessed July 24, 2014.