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Austrian wood - Expo Paris 1867

Austrian wood at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1867

Trade, whether general or particular, can always be reduced to two essential terms: supply and demand. Some have too much, others not enough. The Austrian exhibition is an example of this elementary way of acting. The imperial and royal administration has, for some years now, been making a rough census of its forest resources, and it has found - fortunately! - It is thinking of selling, it is offering its merchandise, and this is the purpose and explanation of the exhibition of Austrian woods. Certainly it will seem curious to many people that in our time an empire should find itself too rich in timber while so many others acknowledge themselves - alas! - too poor, and make every effort, not to become rich in this respect, but at least to prevent complete ruin. The fact is no less true: there is a plethora for some and a dearth for others.

- Buy, you will say to those who lack. - Sell, you will advise those who have too much.

Nothing more sensible, but nothing less easy.

After the sale, you have to deliver. But wood, a bulky commodity par excellence, cannot be delivered like a metre of cloth or a piece of silk. You need roads, and Austria does not have any.

This is the crux of the problem. It is because Austria has no roads that it has been able to allow a frightening mass of wood to accumulate in its forests, which it now wants to get rid of at all costs. Moreover, in the forest, savings are not like in any other matter: if it does not grow, it deteriorates: moreover, before deteriorating, it harms the products that must succeed it.

When a fruit is ripe, it must be picked or it will rot, fall and disappear in vain. When a wood is ripe, it must be removed or it will rot, fall and be consumed on the ground at a loss to the industry. But here the damage is twofold. Not only is the woody matter lost to man, and merely returns to the earth the principles slowly extracted from the atmosphere and from its bosom by the vital force; but the plant, before dying, has languished for a long time - centuries! - But the plant, before dying, has languished for a long time - centuries! - no longer growing, only living, taking the place of a younger one which would have assimilated abundantly and produced woody matter; but in falling it covers the ground with its debris which, for a long time to come, will hinder the emergence of young seedlings buried under the dust of its branches and the debris of its structure.

This is how nature proceeds by means of elimination in its exploitation of the forests it generates, and this is how most Austrian forests - where man has barely been able to penetrate - are still cultivated today. The trees languish, die and fall: these are the giants that fill the virgin forests of Bukowine and Gallicia: there are firs and spruces that are 60 metres high, beeches of 40 whose diameters are proportional to these enormous heights. Well, the rare and miserable inhabitants of these lost regions know only one thing, to transport this precious material, half decomposed, in order to reduce it to ashes and, melting these ashes into a purer product, to sell them as potash. It is estimated that not less than 12 to 15 thousand quintals of woody material are transformed in this way each year!

Austria is so rich in wood accumulated in this way through lack of exploitation in her forests that she complains that only two million steres of wood leave her country each year! She is too rich to spend so much, she cries for mercy and asks to be relieved: she is suffocating. Poor, poor empire! which complains of not being able, all of a sudden, to get rid of its least rich and most exploited forests of 35 million steres that it has too much!

This part - the best known - is the one that borders the Adriatic Sea. There is a whole circle of mountainous country whose slopes descend towards the sea and whose escarpments have served as dikes for the march of the waves further into the continent. There are two main slopes that could be called the eastern slope and the western slope, the first of which is somewhat related to the eastern mode, the second of which is more in keeping with the customs and civilisation of our countries.

Slavonia, Croatia, the Military Frontier form - beyond, for us, the Adriatic - a belt above Herzegovina and in the midst of those somewhat indecisive principalities which represent a sort of annex to the Ottoman Empire. On the contrary, the Illyrian provinces, comprising the Littoral, Carniola, Styria, and finally the Tyrol, which in its western part becomes almost Swiss, must be joined to the western group.

In these countries, the exploitation of wood is done through the ports of the Adriatic Sea, Trieste, Zeugg, Carpolago, Buccari, etc. Forest roads, but - 6 progress! -descending from the mountains and crossing the plains, bring, without too much expense, the wood to the ports of embarkation. There is thus an important trade there, and it is expanding every day. And yet Austria complains! It still finds 35 million steres for the highest bidder! What will happen in the north-eastern and northern countries of the country, in the region of the virgin forests?

It is really a curious fact that we hear about primeval forests in our old Europe, and yet nothing could be more true. There are in Bukowine and Gallicia, in the Carpathians, - those little known mountains - more than 10,000 square kilometres of unexploited forests or thereabouts! This enormous mass is not composed of a single stretch of woodland, but forms an immense desert, whose massifs are separated by uncultivated moors, in which only the rivers trace paths. What would man do there?

On the edges of these massifs, he clears the forest floor by burning potash; but in the interior, the accumulation of woody matter is inconceivable. The railways are beginning to bypass these unknown forests, but there are no roads to connect them to the wagons. Only the rivers remain, coming from the mountains, and it is through them that exploitation takes place. It is by throwing the wood carried by the rivers that we manage to bring some products to the ports of consumption. But how much loss and how much barbarism is involved in these procedures!

As we can see, Austria, in addition to its inland woods, is surrounded to the south, north-east and north by a belt of immense forests. Let us not be surprised, therefore, at the importance of her exhibition, and let us admire, without reserve, the beauty of the samples she brought and which, as we have already said, found not only admirers but eager buyers.

One can only praise the taste and care with which the forestry administration of the country has set up its exhibition. In the centre, the lumberjack's lodge, made of simple juxtaposed young fir logs; above, a trophy of rough-hewn and worked boards, logs, etc. To the right and left, piles of shaped wood, split wood, clogs, shingles, planks, laths, circles, etc. Next to them, charcoal in remarkable masses, then, here and there, trunks, washers, logs, all brought in for a useful purpose, an industrial or scientific remark.

Finally, in front, like the most beautiful jewel in its case, a necklace of enormous trees, oaks of 20 or 30 metres, ash trees of 40, firs of 30, etc., etc., etc.

And all of this is sold, and all of this is taken away at a high price.

Good for Austria! It deserves to succeed.

©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée