CHAPTER V.--THE PRESENT STATE OF THE ISLAND.

Dissipation of Natural Resources. (continued)

  240. Unless this process is checked, similar results may be expected to follow in Labrador, which promises to become a favourite resort for concession-hunters. The situation in Labrador will be dealt with in a later chapter.* It will suffice to note here that no less than 12,000 square miles of timbered areas are held by companies and individuals under licence from the Crown at petty rentals and that, to the detriment and loss of the Dominion, none of these areas are at present being worked by the licensees.

  241. In other ways the dissipation of national resources has proceeded apace. The two Paper Companies have instituted, in their own interests, efficient fire-control services in their respective areas of Newfoundland, but in the remainder of the Island the arrangements for combatting forest fires, though greatly improved of recent years, still leave much to be desired. Such fires are of frequent occurrence and the damage done each year is considerable. There is no reafforestation. These areas are now nearly all in private hands with the exception of the "three mile limit" which is still the property of the Crown.

  242. The land within three miles of the sea has been reserved for the use of the people. No adequate care is, however, taken to ensure that the timber on the three mile limit is properly conserved. There is no supervision of cutting by the fisherman, who is free to help himself to the timber he requires for his own purposes. The careless felling of trees leads to much unnecessary damage; much of the wood is wasted and left to die on the ground and, while preventing new growth, is an aid to forest fires. The result is that some parts of the coast line, which were formerly well-timbered, are now treeless. Further abuses spring from the practice of permitting the erection of saw mills on the three mile limit. These mills are erected and worked by private individuals and companies, under licence from the Crown, partly with the object of meeting the requirements of the local fishermen, but mainly in order to admit of the continuous supply of timber to the more populous centres and especially to St. John's. The operations of these mills are in theory subject to supervision, but the primitive methods under which they are conducted have, for political reasons, been allowed to continue unchecked. The need for scientific advice on the question of conserving the forest resources of the Island is a matter requiring urgent attention.

  243. The depletion of the game resources of the Island is another example of the unfortunate consequences of unenlightened government. Newfoundland was formerly the home of large herds of caribou; moose, when introduced, multiplied rapidly; and experiments have shown that the country is well suited to reindeer. As the interior of the Island is largely uninhabited, there is no good reason why herds of caribou and moose should not have continued to flourish and to provide the inhabitants with plentiful supplies of meat and skins. The killing instinct is, however, highly developed in Newfoundlanders and, once the railway had been built across the Island, giving easy access to the interior, destruction proceeded at such a rapid rate that to-day these animals are in danger of complete extermination. A close season for caribou and moose has nominally been in force for some years, but the Game and Inland Fisheries Board has been denied the staff necessary to enforce it and, though we were given to understand that prior to the depression the herds were on the increase, there is no doubt that they have been subject to wholesale slaughter during the last two years. There are some observers, indeed, who assert that the close season has served to accelerate rather than to check the rate of destruction. They point out that, when the season was open, a man who killed an animal in the forest brought it out whole, and kept the meat in a frozen or salted state to be used as required; now that there is nominally a close season, it is the common practice for a man to content himself with cutting off as much of a freshly killed animal as he can smuggle out of the forests without risk of detection, leaving the rest of the carcase to rot. When the meat so procured has been consumed, another visit is paid to the forests and the same process is repeated.

  244. Similarly, the experiment with reindeer which was carried out by Sir Wilfred Grenfell in the north of the Island proved at first highly successful, but when the herd had increased from 300 to 1,500, the greed of the inhabitants, and their instinctive desire to kill any animal on sight, could no longer be restrained. Within a few months four-fifths of the animals had been slaughtered, and the experiment had to be abandoned.

Port Saunders Port Saunders, n.d.
Photographer unknown. From the album of photographs furnished to the Newfoundland Royal Commission, August 1933. Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives (Coll-207), Memorial University of Newfoundland Library, St. John's, Newfoundland.
Larger Version (47 kb)

  245. The interior is admirably suited also to furbearing animals such as beaver, otter, minx and fox. Beaver, once flourishing, are now almost extinct and the other animals have been reduced to small proportions. Had a scientific policy of conservation been adopted, the country would have been assured of a welcome source of revenue.

  246. But the neglect of these and other opportunities is of less moment than the consistent neglect of the fishery. An attempt was made shortly after the War to modernise the fishing industry and comprehensive regulations were issued with a view to the improvement of existing methods of catching, curing and marketing; these regulations were, however, linked with an endeavour to fix prices in foreign markets. When this failed, the scheme was brought into disrepute and the regulations were finally withdrawn. From that date until the onset of the depression, the policy of successive Governments was directed towards industrial expansion. The establishment of the Corner Brook Mill in 1923 gave encouragement to exaggerated notions of the potentialities of the Island. The opening of the Buchans mine; the decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council confirming Newfoundland in the sovereignty of Labrador; and the prospects of attracting tourists from the neighbouring continent and from the United Kingdom all led the people to believe that a new era had begun. The fact that the fisheries were, and must remain, the basis on which the Island's economic structure rests, was overlooked. Lavish expenditure on any object but the fisheries was considered justifiable. Loans amounting to over $50,000,000 have been raised since the War; it is safe to say that, of this vast sum, less than $1,000,000 has been devoted to the stimulation of the fishing industry. For a period of twelve years, until the depression overtook them, successive Governments indulged in a prolonged gamble with public funds, in the course of which the debt of the country was doubled, its resources dissipated and its true interests neglected. A dispassionate survey reveals that none of the objects so financed has proved remunerative; the gamble has in no case succeeded. The new edifice which the people imagined was in course of erection has been shown to have been founded on sand, and the period has closed in disillusionment and distress.


  * Chapter VIII, paras. 519-529.


Image description updated May, 2004.



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