Fascist Environmentalism

Updated: May 3

From What is Fascism and Why Edited by Tomaso Sillani, New York, The Macmillan Company 1931, written by Arnaldo Mussolini, President of the National Forestry Committee", Chapt. VIII, P. 88

Forests, indispensable to the life and the general economy of Nations, are of particular importance in our Country, half the area of which is mountainous.

The conditions of the mountains and of the torrent and river beds, the land-slips and crumbling slopes, frequent floods and avalanches, the impoverishment of mountains and of agriculture, the exodus of the rural population, the amounts spent on imports of timber - in short, all the disasters ensuing upon the cutting down of woods, are evident proofs, that only the work of time can cancel, of the destructive mania which effete past Governments were powerless to stop.

The Fascist Regime, with its clear policy of reconstructing national integrity, production and prosperity, was bound to give deep thought to this problem, and it has proved capable of facing it in full.

In this field as in others the resolute words of the Duce struck home, and Italians at once realized that forestry had entered upon a new era.

THE MESSAGES OF THE DUCE - Benito Mussolini had his say on this matter in words which by their conciseness and firmness made a deep impression on the minds of the people and influenced their action.

We may quote some of the more striking parts:

" I love trees. Defend them.”

“I will help you to defend them ",

"I applaud all efforts to give new mountain wealth to the country and greater security to the agriculture of the plains, Pursue tenaciously this arduous enterprise you have engaged in to preserve for Italy the scented forests that gave Rome her triremes and the sea-faring republics their galleys, and to give back to the mountains of our country their green covering of trees, without which their imperial beauty is not complete."

"I wish to affirm once more my resolute intention of saving our remaining forests and restoring their classic woods to the barren hillside of the Country. And I am happy to send my message of faith to the Province of Trento, which harbors such an intense love of its forests together with an undying love of Italy.”

"The causes of prolonged droughts, unbroken by atmospherical discharges (apart from destructive cyclones) are to be sought for in the woefully barren mountain tracts of the Apennines- We lack great forests with their spreading shadows whence arise the currents that coagulate the acqueous vapour suspended in the higher strata of the atmosphere and cause it to precipitate in. the form of rain."

"While waiting for the millions of trees that have been planted to accomplish among their many duties also this fundamental function of atmospheric equilibrium the period of waiting will be long; certainly not less than half a century - irrigating plants must be established without delay... The complete reclamation of the country is an initiative the accomplishment of which will alone suffice to make the Revolution of the Black Shirts famous throughout the centuries ".

" From the ever restless sea, we pass to the mountains which safeguard our great plain and form the back-bone of the peninsula.

"A mountain policy is being put into action."

"The bleak summits are being clothed with trees, planted and protected by the Forest Militia."

"Be proud of your mountains; love the life of your mountains, and do not let yourselves be seduced by the life of the so-called great cities, where men live crowded into stone or cement boxes without air or light, with less space and often in dire poverty.

Be proud of your numerous and healthy children, for the day in which our sturdy Alpine race dies out will be a sad one both for you and for the Nation. "

FROM WORDS TO ACTION. - The National Forest Militia. - The Duce wished to give the country a technically trained police force with military character and discipline, rigidly to enforce the laws and carry out the works begun. He therefore established the National Forest Militia.

At the present moment it is commanded by a General Consul, and is composed of 328 officers, 377 non-commissioned officers, 302 chosen militiamen and 2638 soldiers of the militia.

The recruitment of the officers and the militiamen is based on a rigid criterion of selection. The officers are chosen by regular completion from among graduates in Civil Engineering and Agricultural Sciences. The winners of the competition have also to frequent a special course for Training Officers at the R. Highei Agrarian Institute in Florence before being allowed to exercise their duties.

The militiamen are also recruited by means of a publicly announced competition and are then sent to the R. Training School for Forest militiamen at Cittaducale.

The non-commissioned officers are chosen from among the militiamen.

The Forest Black Shirts have known how to assert themselves and they answer to our highest expectations, as we shall show when we come to speak of the single activities and various enterprises.

WOODS, REAFFORESTATION, PASTURE-LANDS. - Present statistics, always susceptible of correction, show a wooded surface of about 5,545,000 hectares, of which 3,500,000 are on the mountains, 1,740,000 on the hillsides and 305,000 in the plains.

The greater part of these forests, about 50 % of them, are situated in Northern Italy; 30 % are in Central Italy and 20 % in Southern Italy, including the Islands.

We have besides 7,600,000 hectares. of meadows, pasture-lands and waste lands, 4,085,000 of which are on the mountains, 2,403 on the hills, and 1,112,000 in the plains.

Lastly we have approximately 3,400,000 hectares of cultivated area in the mountains.

From this we see that although properly and prevalently mountainous, the silviculture of our country does not occupy even one half of our mountain area. Nor are the 5,545,000 hectares of so-called wood ed lands all covered with real woods: the greater part consists of underwood, deteriorated woods and scrub, with only a small proportion of forest-trees.

From this picture one gathers how vast and arduous is the task of reconstruction undertaken by the Fascist Government and assigned to the Forest Militia.

The Forest Militia devotes all its energies to the protection of these forests or remains of forests, the greater part of which belong either to the Communes, the State or to private individuals, and in 1929 it had to denounce some 60,000 infringements.

As part of their technical duties, the Militia officers direct the works being done by the State and by the Associations formed between Provinces, Communes, and State.

These associations, which formerly existed in only a few provinces, have now been established nearly all over the country. The Militia directs not only all the re-wooding and re-conditioning of the forests belonging to Corporations, but also the works for the enrichment of mountain pasture-lands.

The Militia has also under its control the game service and fishing service in mountain waters.

The few technical officers of the Royal Forest Guard, who owing to age limit or to superabundance on the military cadres, have remained on the civil lists, are attached to the General Headquarters of the Militia and collaborate wholeheartedly with it.

The stimulus given by the Fascist Government to the work of rewooding and of systematizing the forests of the mountain basin, compared with the slowness of former Governments is shown by the following figures: whereas only 26,200 hectares were reforested and only 16,500 hectares of mountain area were systematized in the 55 yearn from 1867 to June 30, 1922, in the 7 years from 1922 to June 30, 1929, 5,884 hectares of land have been reforested and 15,283 hectare of mountain area have been systematized.

These figures do not include the reforestation of State forest for regular cultural purposes.

The rhythm of this work becomes yearly more rapid. According to General Agostini's last report to the Duce, some 79,500,000 small plants and some 557,000 kilograms of forest seeds have been planted within the last two years.

The planting of poplar trees along the mud-banks and hydraulic appurtenances of the plains has been greatly intensified. In the financial year 1928-29, 8,794,000 lire were set aside for the enrichment of the mountain pastures, that is, 159 % more than the annual average for the five years from 1917 to 1924, and 2,865,000 lire were assigned for State grants, 1,271,000 of which have already been paid out, that is, 393 % more than the average for the same period of five years.

But besides providing for this branch of the general technical and preservation service of the forests and pastures belonging to Communes, corporate bodies and private owners, the Fascist State has provided for the organization and enlargement of an equally important branch of this service, that of the Administration of the State Forests.

STATE FOREST ADMINISTRATION. - Many voices had been raised in the past in favour of the direct intervention of the State for the formation of a vast State Forest Demesne. We need only recall here the names of Senators Luigi Rava, Giovanni Raineri and the late Luigi Luzzatti, who, by carrying the bill of 1910, was the first to lay a solid foundation upon which to build up the scheme.

A special Office was thus formed for the Administration of the State Forest Demesnes, by handing over to the Department of Agri culture all forests, formerly depending upon the Finance Department, and also by purchasing new forests.

The total area of 218,329 hectares has thus been increased during the Fascist period to 226,932 hectares, as follows:

Forests . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . hectares 150.520

Pasture-lands, meadows, etc. . . . . . ... “ 23.592

Barren lands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . “ 52.820

The wooded surface of 150,520, includes 16 % of coppice and is distributed as follows:

Northern Italy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . hectares 58.442

Central Italy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. “ 28.546

Southern Italy including the Islands. . .. “ 63.532

The surface thus covered is very modest when compared with the immense extent of our mountainous regions, where no other growth except woods is profitable or possible.

The National Forest Militia was also employed in the care, custody, administration and technical management of the special office, now known as the State Forest Office.

During the present Regime a definite improvement has taken place in our Forest demesnes owing to the building of houses and barracks for the staff, either in the middle of the forests or on their outskirts, through the extension of the road systems, the installation of cable and telephone lines, saw-mills, and hygienic systematization and improvement.

Under the Fascist Government our Forest Demesnes will go on steadily increasing.

Tens of millions of stocks, the profits derived from the Office, have already been set aside for the purpose.

Another considerable addition to the State Demesnes can be made by passing over to the State the private Lands, which under the Integral Reclamation Act are to be systematized and reforested, but which up to the present moment have only been occupied subject to the payment of an indemnity to the proprietors.

Thus the Regime will at last be able to fulfill what has heretofore been the vain ambition of our experts, whose long experience taught them the futility of working another man's estates and paying him dues for right of occupation, merely to return it later on, properly wooded, in the hope that it would be carefully husbanded: a vain hope that generally ended in bitter disappointment, loss of time and money, and worse local conditions. Another strong point in the mountain policy of the present Government is represented by its praiseworthy tendency towards what has been termed " a single forest front ".

We have already drawn attention to the fact that the greater part of the State's forest patrimony consists of common lands greatly deteriorated and mostly unproductive.

By the direct intervention of the State and consequently "of the Forest Militia in the management of these woods, not only will their definite preservation and national utilization be assured, but the Communes can count on them for a safe income, while they afford profitable resources for regional industries and activities, and contribute to improve the living conditions of the inhabitants, who will feel more strongly attached than ever to their native mountains.

Here again the Office for the Forest Demesnes has already taken over the management of some six thousand hectares of wooded lands belonging to four Communes in the province of Catanzaro, and is administrating them as State Forests, the net proceeds being handed over to the Corporations they belong to.

Finally, the Forest Office, which offers such an excellent example of rational forest cultivation to the Country, has but recently finished systematizing some of the most important forests, thus providing for their lasting preservation and safeguarding their revenues.

PRINCIPAL PROVISIONS OF THE LAW. - In addition to the laws mentioned above relating to the institution of the National Forest De- Forest Policy 93 mesnes, and the re-organization and reform of the legislation referring to woods and mountain areas, the Fascist Government has issued special provisions for increasing State contributions to the Forest Unions, for the systematization of mountain basins, for a Mountain Secretary ship, for the National Parks in the Abruzzi and on the Gran Paradiso, for the regulation of pasture-lands, and so on.

All these decrees are being gradually amended whenever the necessity arises, as for instance by the extension of forest preservation to all forests.

The law, however, which consolidates and recapitulates the various provisions for rural Italy, is the Duce's law for the integral reclamation of the land and the institution of an Under-Secretaryship in the Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the task of which is to study such problems.

Intimately connected with the enforcement of this law is the systematization of the mountain basins, which from now on is to begin, as a rule, from the top, with a view to rational reforestation.

This logical provision is a definite step-forward in the Fascist Forest policy.

Side by side with these works and ordinances, the Regime has placed special attention to the development of small industries, which generally constitute the best resources of the inhabitants of the mountains.

Practical studies are leading to the enactment of special provisions which will furnish further proof of the Government's vigilant care of our hardy rural populations.

CORPORATIVE ORGANIZATION. - In the past, forest-keepers and labourers were little considered and generally confused with other classes of labourers; but they have now been fully recognized and organized in a separate body by the Fascist Corporative State.

As a result of these workers having been thus organized and divided into different categories, it has also been possible to secure a higher standard of working ability.

Wood-cutters and shepherds have acquired a new class dignity, born of a feeling of pride in the trade they belong to.

.Both small industries and large industries have felt the effects of the improved conditions of labour; and the latter has found in the Federations of the forest proprietors and manufacturers well-organized bodies capable of facilitating the working and selling of mountain produce.

FOREST PROPAGANDA. - It is also a merit of the Regime to have amalgamated the various institutions for forest propaganda and created a National Forest Committee, of which I myself have again been appointed president by the Ministers concerned.

We have among other things revived the celebration of Arbour Day, for the care and growth of small trees planted by children.

Last year during this school ceremony one million two hundred thousand small trees were planted and the Committee presented to the prize-winners some 2330 diplomas and medals.

Remembrance Parks and Avenues, a purely Fascist institution, have also been given a place of honour by the Committee.

Kinematographs, publications, conferences, exhibitions, and practical examples of reforestation are all cared for by the Committee.

By building a Park near Mantua for Vergil's Millenary, containing the flora mentioned in the Georgics, I feel sure I have interpreted the wish of all thinkers and scholars. This Park contains all the flora sung by the Poet and will be inaugurated next October.

Other enterprises are materializing. I wish to close these few notes by recalling the spontaneous offer of labour on the part of the populations of the Basilicata for the restoration of certain mountain regions. This is a fine instance of forest interest and Fascist faith and it has been followed lately by the provinces of Arezzo and Forli.

The efforts of the Duce towards the restoration of our forests have aroused much interest abroad and excited considerable admiration.

The Press of those Countries where forestry is more developed and where its value is properly appreciated has shown great sympathy for our forest movement, and has declared " that there is sufficient daring in such a conception to make the name of Mussolini immortal ".

On a memorable " forest day " at Asiago, I said that " as our mountains, rising above the uniform greyness of the plains, are nearer to the stars, so are our sturdy and silent mountaineers nearer to the heart of Italy".

The wise measures taken by the Government and the work accomplished so far for our mountains and our mountain populations prove the truth of that assertion and justify confidence in the future of Italian forestry under the Fascist Regime.

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