Page images
PDF
EPUB

mission is that these various differences may be compromised. The result might be a general leasing bill for much of the public lands. Some of it might be handled as the public school lands are now handled, and some of it might be handled with a reservation as to minerals, fuel, and that sort of thing. In other cases, some of the minerals might be passed over with the land, as is the case now with minerals under the school lands.

Mr. O'CONNOR. Your bill seems to be a little narrow. You have been talking about a possible disposition of this land, but the bill calls for a study and report on the conservation and administration of the public domain. That is not a disposition of it. This provides for the conservation and administration of it.

Mr. LEAVITT. Yes, sir.

Mr. O'CONNOR. Under this bill, with this limitation in it, I do not see how they could report even on the disposition of the land. It might be well to broaden the language of the bill to cover what you are talking about.

Mr. LEAVITT. This would mean the conservation of it. I will state that this is a bill that came down as worded from the department, except that there was an amendment put in by the committee which would require a report to be made by the 1st of December. That was all that was added to it by the committee. It was intended to do what we have in mind. In my judgment, conservation is the thought they had in mind. The thought was that a certain part of it would have to be under the supervision of the States. The States are now handling their school lands conservatively and strengthening the school funds. I do not think there will be just one disposition of the whole thing, to give my personal judgment. That illustrates the fact that the opinions on the subject are so varied that this kind of a study seems to be required.

Mr. MICHENER. The purpose is not altogether the collection of a lot of facts that the committees already have and a report of those facts to Congress, but the real purpose of the committee that reported the bill, and of those favoring the commission, was that the commission would report something of a concrete nature that was to be done.

Mr. LEAVITT. That is the purpose of the bill.

Mr. MICHENER. It is not to be like the Coal Commission which made an investigation and presented a great volume of facts, with no conclusions. I notice that the bill requires a report, together with recommendations, not later than the first Monday in December.

Mr. LEAVITT. They will make a report and recommendation.
Mr. FRENCH. To whom?
Mr. LEAVITT. To Congress or the President.

Mr. PURNELL. Will this report be the basis for a further recommendation by the President or action by your committee?

Mr. LEAVITT. I would expect it would result in both. It would have to result in both from the fact that the President has taken the initiative. That really is the fine thing back of it all. This question has existed for years, but this is the first time that any general suggestion has been made that it ought to be studied and something done about it.

Mr. Fort. As a matter of fact, there are a large number of minor bills in every session that affect this problem in a piecemeal way.

Mr. LEAVITT. Yes, sir; that is true. This bill of mine that I spoke about affects 100,000 acres. My idea in that was not only to meet a local situation but to furnish a laboratory for the study of the problem to see how it could be worked out. It is close to a range livestock experiment station where they may get the benefit of expert advice from the officials in charge.

My committee is about to meet and I must leave now. Mr. Colton, the chairman of the Public Lands Committee, will present the matter more fully.

The CHAIRMAN. We will now hear Mr. Colton, the chairman of the Public Lands Committee.

Mr. Colton. Mr. Chairman, supplementing what Mr. Leavitt has said, the purpose of this commission is to make a report and recommendation, after a careful study, of some policy with reference to the disposition, management, and control of the public domain, also for the purpose of making a general recommendation along conservation lines. May I say, in answer to suggestions that have been made here, that I have for more than six or seven years been working on a proposition looking toward the control of grazing upon the public domain and the conservation of water somewhat along the lines, the problems are now handled by the Forest Service in the national forests. Every man who has made a study of the results of the work in the National Forest Service is convinced of its efficiency. It has not reduced the number of stock grazing in the forests. On the contrary, it has increased the number, but, at the same time, it has greatly increased the forage by proper management. We have this situation on the public domain: The remaining lands are used largely for grazing in the fall and winter. Formerly the men went into the forests, or into the higher mountains for grazing in the summer, and then the lower lands of the public domain were allowed to recoup themselves, but as it is now, a great many men, in many sections of the country, who are not home owners, and who are not tied in any way to the soil, remain upon this public domain the year around, thereby destroying the vegetation. They pay no fee for grazing upon these lands. They destroy very much of the forage by driving from one place to another, without any control or regulation at all, and the result is that the vegetation is being removed almost entirely from many of the lands. We have in my State, in the central part of Utah, what is known as the Great Basin Esperiment Station, which has demonstrated two things beyond a doubt--that is, the relationship of the control of grazing upon the lands with reference to the value of the lands for such purposes, and the control of grazing with reference to erosion. For instance, a large area was fenced and the grazing was controlled; a settling tank was placed at the lower end of this area, where careful measurement could be made of the soil that was washed there each year. They found by a careful survey that there was probably somewhere between 16 and 20 per cent of the land covered with vegetation at the time of the commencement of the experiment. They increased the vegetation to 40 per cent, and decreased the erosion about 55 per cent. Right near there grazing was stopped entirely in a canyon, at the mouth of which was located a thriving town

Mr. BANKHEAD. Who stopped it?

Mr. Colton. The canyon was in a forest reserve, and the Forest Service has supervision of it, and the control of the grazing in that canyon stopped the floods almost entirely that had threatened to destroy that town. The control of grazing to a large extent means the control of floods.

Mr. BANKHEAD. Just one more question in that connection. Like Mr. Pou, I am just asking for information: Is the title to this land that you are seeking to protect in the Government of the United States?

Mr. COLTON. Yes, sir.
Mr. BANKHEAD. It is the public domain.
Mr. COLTON. Yes.
Mr. BANKHEAD. The Government owns it in fee simple?
Mr. COLTON. Yes.
Mr. BANKHEAD. The Government holds it in fee simple.

Mr. Colton. That is my theory, but there are some who believe that the Government holds this in trust.

Mr. BANKHEAD. Using the illustration just given by you, in that specific instance, the Government itself, exercising its right of proprietorship, without an act of Congress, did stop the grazing on this particular part of the domain in the interest of conservation. Now, why could not your committee report a bill to extend that general policy, so that the Secretary of the Interior could enforce this law on any part of the public domain where it was necessary in order to protect it from injury?

Mr. Colton. I am glad the gentleman has raised that question. That particular area to which I referred is under the Forest Service. It is national forest land. My own idea is that it ought to be done, and for more than seven years I have been pressing a bill to do that, but we have met opposition in our own committee. Within our own ranks-I mean those of us from the West-we do not seem to be able to get together. For instance, many in the State of Wyoming are very much opposed to any sort of regulation or control at all. My own thought is that we håve a peculiar situation there. There is so much railroad land that they can rent and use the public domain free, that they do not have the serious situation in keeping off nomadic herds that we have in other sections.

Mr. BANKHEAD. In other words, the difficulty has been in your committee.

Mr. Colton. Yes; that is largely true. The work of this commission will be largely educative.

Mr. BANKHEAD. Suppose this commission recommended a general policy for the protection of the public domain, prohibiting overgrazing and suppose that recommendation were made to your committee with its present set-up, do you think your committee would report a bill carrying out that recommendation?

Mr. Colton. Yes. It would very greatly help. My own judgment is that it would be the thing that would, perhaps, enable us to get legislation before Congress. I believe that more than anything else we need to convince the people of the country of the necessity of some sort of control. Otherwise, our asset of public grazing, which is being dissipated, will soon be entirely lost.

Mr. BANKHEAD. There is one other question: Do the owners of the cattle that graze on that land claim that they have the inherent right to graze their private property on the public domain? Mr. Colton. There may be some such question. Mr. BANKHEAD. What is your opinion about that? Mr. COLTON. I do not think that there is any inherent right there.

Mr. BANKHEAD. In other words, they are quasi trespassers upon the public lands. Mr. Colton. Well, not exactly that.

exactly that. However, from time immemorial, as you know, under the common law, people have been allowed to graze their stock on the public commons. You take in connection with that the idea that every man had who has gone upon the public domain and carved out for himself a home, under the homestead law, that he could use a part of that public domain to graze his stock, it has grown to be almost a right. If we had only one class of people to deal with, we would never have any trouble or difficulty. Our difficulty has not arisen to any great extent from the home owners, but from men who are there temporarily. For instance, there was a man near my home town, who was a Greek. He came in there, but never identified himself with the country. He amassed a fortune of about $125,000 and went back to Greece. The men to whom he sold are followng the same policy. They are not heavy taxpayers and are simply ruining the grazing lands by overgrazing.

Mr. BANKHEAD. And there is nothing in the existing law to stop that?

Mr. Colton. Absolutely nothing whatever. We have been unable to get any sentiment in Congress which would permit us to get through the necessary legislation to meet that situation.

There is one other phase that Mr. French will, perhaps, discuss more in detail, and that has reference to the result of erosion on the reservoirs that have been built under the reclamation law. They are being filled up, and the canals and ditches are being filled up. We are not only injuring the public property, but we are permitting an inestimable damage to private property.

Mr. Michener. To make a long story short, there is something there that should be remedied, and, according to your views, you are unable to remedy it, and your are asking for this commission in order that they may determine what is the cure.

Mr. Colton. For the purpose of suggesting a possible cure, and for creating public sentiment in favor of the passage of a law that will effect that cure. That is all there is to it. I might say that there are between 190,000,000 and 200,000,000 acres of this land to which I have referred.

I thank you for your attention.

Mr. French. Mr. Chairman, I think the general picture has been given. In the first place, the main value, or the chief value, of the present public domain is in its watershed and flood-control features. The question should be of primary interest to every one who is interested in flood control and reclamation, and, of course, of vital interest to cities and communities in the West where flood-control problems are imminent and where development depends so vitally upon success of reclamation. Let me just supplement what Mr. Colton, of the Public Lands Committee, and Mr. Leavitt, of Indian Affairs, have said.

In this connection let me mention one or two concrete instances of the damage caused by erosion. On the Zuni Indian Reservation, in New Mexico, under an authorization of Congress passed about 1905, a reservoir was built. It was completed in 1907. That reservoir has been completed less than 23 years, and upon the basis of the 1,000-foot contour level, the reservoir is more than 73 per cent filled with silt. Upon the basis of a 900-ton foot contour level, it is more than 93 per cent filled. In other words, in a short length of time, the reservoir which cost to build nearly $600,000, has been practically destroyed. The Roosevelt and Elephant Butte Reservoirs have been completed within the past some 15 years, and they are already from 7% to 9 per cent filled with silt. They are in that condition after people have just begun to pay for them. I have mentioned extreme cases, but they illustrate a situation that challenges our immediate attention. The main cause of this condition is uncontrollable overgrazing. I am tremendously concerned about the Arrow Rock Reservoir in my own State and as I see it the immediate course for us to pursue is to prevent abuse of the public domain by control of grazing, by permitting ground cover to come again. For the protection of the Arrow Rock Reservoir in Idaho, I have introduced a bill providing for the inclusion of the watershed upon which it depends in a National forest. I have a joint resolution pending before Mr. Colton's committee providing that the President be given authority to include in the withdrawals for definite grazing control all watersheds of reclamation projects, and I hope that it may be passed. In my judgment, it would be well that this action be taken, now and in advance of the investigation the President's commission will undertake.

Watersheds do not end at State lines. In other words, States below Wyoming or Idaho or Montana may be tremendously interested in what Wyoming or Idaho or Montana does, while it is conceivable these States might be interested only in the return that will come to their grazing funds or by way of taxes upon herds of sheep, and other livestock. I mention that because the statement has been made, that each State should control its own domain. This is a mistake; it is a problem that does not end with State lines and so it becomes a problem for the National Government, and not one for the States themselves to handle.

The CHAIRMAN. I believe that all of you people seem to be agreed on what is necessary to be done, and the only question that seems to be bothering our committee is why you can not go ahead and do it without any further investigation.

Mr. FRENCH. All in the West are not in accord and the efforts of some of us have been blocked by those in opposition. Personally, I think, as do Mr. Colton and Mr. Leavitt, that the proposed program is, at least, one that should commend itself to your serious thought. I think it would be the right way and will be helpful in shaping public opinion in behalf of a constructive program. We ought to act.

Mr. PURNELL. Why do you not do it?

Mr. FRENCH. There have been bills covering the whole program pending before Mr. Colton's committee, but we seem to be up against a stone wall in the matter of public sentiment. I think President Hoover has performed a definite public service in focusing the atten

« PreviousContinue »