Timber and Stone Culture Act (1878


Act that made cheap public land available for lumber interests.

In March 1877, Congress passed the Desert Land Act, which allowed individuals to claim up to 640 acres of arid western land at only $1.25 per acre if they attempted to irrigate the land within three years. The law applied to the states of California, Oregon, and Nevada as well as to the territories of Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, and the Dakotas. Nearly nine million acres of arid public land were affected by the act. Most of the property went to cattle ranchers.

A year later, lumbermen lobbied for a similar act that would benefit their industry, and Congress passed the Timber and Stone Culture Act in 1878 to meet their demands. The law offered tracts of public land unfit for agriculture in the states of California, Oregon, and Nevada and in the Washington Territory at only $2.50 per acre. The size of any one tract could not exceed 160 acres. Individuals who purchased the land had to swear that they were buying the land for their own use or benefit and that they had made no agreements to transfer the land to anyone else. Lawmakers added these provisions fearing that lumbermen would hire individuals to claim small tracts, only to transfer their titles immediately to a large lumber company.

In 1878, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that individuals could transfer their titles immediately after acquiring the land to any person or company. As a result, large lumber companies became the major beneficiaries of the new law. The acquisition of nearly one-third of the privately owned forests in the Pacific Northwest occurred through the Timber and Stone Culture Act. In 1892, the law extended to public land in all the states. Eventually Americans purchased over 13 million acres under the provisions of the Timber and Stone Culture Act.

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