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1867: Should Wisconsinʹs Forests Be Saved?

Introduction: By the 1850s Wisconsinʹs lumber industry had penetrated far into the northwoods. Although the forests seemed limitless to most people, Milwaukee scientist Increase Lapham feared that the pursuit of profits by lumber barons would harm the environment. In 1867 the state legislature authorized an investigation of what actions, if any, the government ought to take to prevent this. Lapham chaired that investigation and the report linked below is the result of his teamʹs efforts. Unfortunately, legislators, many of whom were indebted to lumber interests for support or were investors in lumber companies themselves, ignored both the problem and the report. But 25 years later, as Laphamʹs predictions began to come true, the need to save Wisconsin forests led to the first state parks. When the Progressive Movement broke control of government by corporations in the early 20th century, environmental issues finally began to be addressed. In 1907 the state hired John Nolen, a noted landscape architect, to draft a feasibility plan for a State Park System, and his report led to our state park system.

Background Reading: ʺLumbering and Forest Productsʺ h t t p : / / w w w . w i s c o n s i n h i s t o r y . o r g / t u r n i n g p o i n t s / t p 0 2 7 / ? a c t i o n = m o r e _ e s s a and ʺThe Conservation Movementʺ y h t t p : / / w w w . w i s c o n s i n h i s t o r y . o r g / t u r n i n g p o i n t s / t p 0 3 3 / ? a c t i o n = m o r e _ e s s a y

Document to Analyze: Lapham, Increase Allen. Report on the disastrous effects of the destruction of forest trees… (Madison, 1867). http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1271

Who, What, Where, When, Why: Increase Lapham (18111875) was the most important Wisconsin scientist of the day. He was appointed to head the committee to investigate the question of forest preservation; the legislature also appointed two nonscientists to the committee but the research and the conclusions were almost certainly all Laphamʹs. The report was written to advise legislators what laws to write and where to invest tax dollars to address the threat of deforestation, but they did nothing significant after receiving it. To most observers the forests seemed unlimited, and jobs and fortunes could be made by making them into wooden houses, furniture and paper.

Related Documents: Photographs of ʺcutoverʺ lands http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1376 and Nolen, John. ʺState Parks for Wisconsin.ʺ (State Park Board, 1909) http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1188


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