West Virginia, the Mountain State

By Charles H. Ambler; Festus P. Summers | Go to book overview

Chapter XXXII
The Vogue of Conservation

ONLY ABOUT 2,500,000 ACRES, or about one sixth of the total area of West Virginia, had been cleared for cropping and pasturage in 1870. The remaining acres were for the most part forest primeval. The cleared land, mostly valley, was supposedly rich beyond the possibility of exhaustion. Most of the acreage was known to be underlaid with coal which, together with a matchless water power, was depended upon to convert the New State into an industrial empire. Both petroleum and natural gas had been discovered, but neither their extent nor their uses had been Visualized. In the absence of scientific direction and of social and governmental restraint, possible use of other resources were lightly considered. Before the turn of the century, hard-working and well-meaning landowners were ruthlessly destroying choice trees which would today be worth many times the original value of the land and the trees, and robbing the land of its natural fertility. At the same time scores of persons were dying annually from diseases contracted from stream pollution; fire and the "lumber kings" were completing the depletion of the forests; lower strata of coal were being mined before upper strata, leaving the latter valueless; and coal was being converted into coke and natural gas into) lamp black on grand scales without so much as a thought of by- products. In 1908, Dr. I. C. White, the State Geologist, estimated the daily wastage of natural gas at 250 million feet, the equivalent of 10,000 tons of coal.1

The record of this prodigality is one of the most shameful chapters in West Virginia annals. The fact that the practices were somewhat general did not justify them. Rather, they raise the question of whether or not the guilty parties were capable of carrying on indefinitely, had these practices continued. Then, too, one cannot dismiss lightly the fact that West Virginia did not share in a large way in the exploitation of her natural re-

____________________
1
Conservation, Commission, Report ( 1908), pp. 5-8, 19.

-466-

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