Saturday, October 15, 2016

Prairie Dust

On Black Sunday, April 14, 1935, sixty mile per hour winds buffeted the North American prairie displacing some 300 million tons of topsoil. The term Dust bowl was coined by an AP reporter.

The ecology of the plains weren't well understood. Farmers over-planted. Crops weren't rotated. Successive drought years kicked up massive dust storms that stripped topsoil.

Buried machinery in barn lot
Dallas, South Dakota

Dryland farming that would have limited topsoil erosion was not commonly practiced. Thousands lost their livelihood and their property. Subsequent waves of migration contributed to joblessness, social strife, and prolonged economic depression.

Thousands of young men were rescued from dust bowl devastation by enrolling in the Civilian Conservation Corps in the spring of 1933.

Civilian Conservation Corps Camp No. 2, Jackson Lake
by George A. Grant, circa 1933

The Civilian Conservation Corps, one of Roosevelt's New Deal social programs was an exemplary work relief initiative enacted by Congress in 1933 and operated until 1942. Nearly 3 billion trees were planted, 13,100 miles of foot trails were constructed, and more than 800 parks were developed or upgraded.

Civilian Conservation Corps worker weeding white spruce seedlings

An excerpt from Franklin D. Roosevelt's second Fireside Chat:
First, we are giving opportunity of employment to one-quarter of a million of the unemployed, especially the young man who have dependents, to go into the forestry and flood prevention work. This is a big task because it means feeding, clothing and caring for nearly twice as many men as we have in the regular Army itself. In creating this civilian conservation corps we are killing two birds with one stone. We are clearly enhancing the value of our natural resources, and we are relieving an appreciable amount of actual distress. This great group of men has entered upon its work on a purely voluntary basis; no military training is involved and we are conserving not only our natural resources, but also our human resources.