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Our Friend the Tree

Jeffrey Syken

When the first European settlers arrived in North America, they found a vast land covered with primeval forests which presented more of an obstacle than a resource. Trees had limited use as a building material and/or a fuel in those early days thus trees were often cut and burned as a waste material. With the establishment of saw mills (at first powered by running water), the great natural resource of the forest became a “cash crop” to be exploited.

By the late 19th Century, clear cutting forest lands and the despoiling of the soil became an endemic national problem. In 1891, the federal government stepped in and set aside vast “reserves” of forest lands lest they share the fate of uncontrolled logging. This did not mean that logging could not occur on these lands, but it had to be done in a way we would term “environmentally friendly” today. As a renewable resource, trees are only renewable if care is taken in their harvest from the forest. Under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Forest Service was established to safeguard this national treasure.

Trees provide shade, beauty, habitats for wildlife and are oxygen factories for planet earth. For mankind, they provide the raw material for numerous products such as wood pulp (for making newsprint paper, plastics etc.), framing and/or finish lumber, plies for making plywood/veneers and serve as the basis for making patterns by which metal castings can be made. Without wood, many industries such as paper mills, textile manufacturers etc. would be unable to produce a finish product. In wartime, wood was used to replace consumer goods enabling strategic metals to be directed to the war effort. In these many varied ways, wood truly is “our friend.”

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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