Drought and Rain – Environmentalism 1866

On this subject the Boston Journal makes the following interesting remarks:

It seems to have been ascertained historically, that in countries like France, Italy, Spain, and Palestine, which have been largely cleared of woods, the annual fall of rain is less now than it was formerly. On the other hand, extensive tree planting in Egypt and Scotland have been followed by more rain yearly than was previously known in those sections.

These are certainly curious results if truly reported. They are attributed in part to the attraction of upright masses of trees for the rain clouds and to other influences not well understood. But however this may be, it is clear to the common sense of every observing man, that a country abounding in woods will retain its average fall of rain longer, and turn it to better account, than a country that is bare. In the latter the wind has a clean sweep over the whole surface, drying up and baking the soil, exhausting the springs and water courses. When the snow melts in the spring , or heavy rains fall, there is nothing to detain the water, but rushes off in sudden, destructive freshets, gullying the land and bearing away its richness.

On the other hand, in a country where the tillage is intermingled with goodly forests, the cold winds of winter, and the hot winds of summer, are alike tempered and checked, so that the soil is neither so much frozen at one season, nor parched at the other. Both the woods and their debris of leaves, as well as the mosses and such like vegetation that they generate, act like sponges to retain heavy rains, distribute their water through the soil more slowly, and keep a more even flow of springs and brooks. Thus, even if no more rain falls in a season, the ground suffers less from drought.

Whoever has lived in a section that has been cleared within his lifetime, will have observed these familiar phenomena. He will remember fair-sized brooks which have shrunk into more water courses- and that not from the same delusion of memory which makes the old elm appear smaller than it once was, because the former banks of the brook are there to bear testimony- and he will point to the place where springs once were which are no dry.

If these things be so, the effect on a large scale must be observed.- The remedy, of course, if it is to be had at all, can only be had in retracing the path of experience in retaining and carefully fostering what woods we have, and in planting others. At some future day we shall probably see the wisdom of this course, and think as highly of it as they do in some of the old countries. It is a pity, however, that we cannot learn wisdom at a cheaper rate than we are likely to do.

Source: Drought and Rain, The Christian Recorder – January 13, 1866

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s African American Newspapers Collection. This enormous collection of African American newspapers contains a wealth of information about cultural life and history during the 1800s and is rich with first-hand reports of the major events and issues of the day.

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