Forestry in the Philippines

Boston Transcript

CAPTAIN GEORGE P. AHERN, who has charge of the forestry interests of the United States Government in the Philippine Islands, discussed the subject interestingly with a visitor the other day. "Forestry and lumbering in the Philippines," said he, "are very different from the corresponding industries in the United States. As a rule Philippine timber runs to the hardwoods, while American timber has a larger proportion of soft. Then the methods of handling timber in the two countries are very unlike. There is no one in the islands now who understands getting the valuable stuff out of the dense forests and preparing it for market. Timber can be cut on the public lands by anyone who secures a permit from the forestry office. No charge is made for this permit, but the wood to be removed must pay a tax on every cubic yard. Each transaction, with all its details of names and figures, is made a subject of record, and the accounts are strictly kept.

"To one accustomed to American forests and industry, the slow gait at which work goes on in the Philippines, in spite of the high value of timber properly cut and prepared, is a marvel. Out of one hundred and twenty thousand square miles of dense forest, for the most part in a virgin state, only twenty million feet of lumber was taken between the first of July, 1900, and the middle of May this year. Moreover, of this absurdly small cut not more than onequarter found its way to the mills, the rest being used rough hewn for construction purposes, or as firewood. It is very hard to get efficient labor for forestry work or lumbering in the Philippines. The lack of roads is a serious drawback, but does not compare with the labor problem. The natives acquire prejudices against many employers, and will not work for them at any price; and even when they consent to work they are not worth a great deal. Being of small stature, they cannot handle weights nor stand a long strain of hard work. One Irishman would be worth ten Filipinos in an island forest. I have seen four natives struggle with a wheelbarrow which any sound-bodied laborer here could pick up and run away with. One should seize it by the handle-bars, and the other three would pull on a rope attached to the front of the body, and then barely move it. From this illustration you may judge what a handful of these little men could do with a log six or seven feet in diameter.

"Speaking of big logs, there are several varieties of trees in the islands which attain gigantic size. The natives have never been able to work this big timber, yet here and there we find hardwood tables of large dimensions whose tops are one solid piece. The mystery is explained when you learn that after cutting down the tree from which such a slab can be got, they slice out this single piece by hand, and leave the remainder to rot. They have neither the means nor the ingenuity to get such a log to market. Here is where skilled American labor, dummy engines, wire cables, and other facilities familiar here will come in play to some purpose.

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A Fortune for a Book
September 12, 1901

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