Natural Rivals by John Clayton

Natural Rivals by John Clayton

Author:John Clayton
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: Epub3
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Published: 2019-05-20T00:00:00+00:00

During the 1880s, Holman had become especially infuriated at the way that railroads and big timber companies ended up acquiring so much of the public domain. One of the very few times Holman changed a bill to increase its appropriation was for a study of fraudulent entries on public land. Late in the decade, he proposed various tweaks to homesteading laws that could limit fraud. He didn’t want to eliminate homesteading itself—it was the best method of disposing of public lands, which was essential to his small-government ideology. Instead, Holman’s tweaks insisted that genuine homesteaders be the only beneficiaries of that disposal. For example, one proposed tweak would reserve a homestead’s coal deposits: smallholders could use coal for their own purposes but not sell those rights to a big coal mining company. Another demanded that railroads forfeit land grants that they weren’t using for construction. A third required that as the former Indian Territory in Oklahoma was opened to white settlement, no land be used for the benefit of any railroad. Few of Holman’s proposals made it into law, but they did help establish the terms of the debate.

Meanwhile, other congressmen were carrying bills for activists concerned about forests. Given that wood was so essential for so many purposes, would massive immediate logging create a subsequent timber famine that would cripple the economy? Were timber monopolies as dangerous as those in railroads or steel? How could the nation prevent forest fires from destroying valuable resources? Could forests enhance downstream irrigation and agriculture?19 In 1888 alone, more than two dozen bills were proposed to reserve some of the forests still remaining on public-domain lands in the West. In the Senate, one of the most promising bills was authored by chief government forester Bernhard Fernow, the German-trained scientist who would later serve as both mentor and nemesis to Gifford Pinchot. But like the other forestry bills—like so many bills seen as unimportant—Fernow’s was sent to a Senate committee and never made it back out.

On the House side, Holman saw that Fernow’s ideas could support his own homesteading reform goals. He included them in an omnibus bill. To accomplish its varied goals, the bill classified the public domain into “agricultural, timber, mineral, desert, or reserved” lands and developed detailed policies for each category, thus meeting some portion of both the Holman and Fernow agendas.20 The bill underwent lengthy debate and revision, with discussion centered on issues that demonstrated the promise of combining forestry and anti-monopolism: protecting watersheds, creating timber reserves, selling timber from government lands by sealed bid to the highest bidder, preventing the assembly of large landed estates from the public domain, and ensuring settlement by actual settlers rather than corporations. The bill eventually passed the House, but with the Senate version lost in committee, it died.

In the 1890–91 session Holman tried again, with an omnibus homestead reform “act to repeal timber-culture laws, and for other purposes.”21 It passed the House, was amended in the Senate, and got sent to a joint House-Senate conference committee—another common graveyard for unimportant bills.


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