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The Dust Bowl

Kernodle, D. L, photographer. Dust storm. Baca County, Colorado. Baca County United States Colorado, 1936. ?. Photograph.
Unknown or not provided, Farmer Inspects Wind Eroded Fields. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Photograph.
Stone, N.R, photographer. Dust Storm Baca County CO Easter Sunday. National Archives and Records Administration. Photograph.
By Unknown author or not provided, Soil Erosion. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Photograph.

History of Conservation Districts

In the early 1930s, amid the throes of the Great Depression, the United States faced an unprecedented ecological catastrophe known as the Dust Bowl. Triggered by a prolonged and severe drought in the Great Plains, the region’s soil began to erode, giving rise to colossal black dust storms that engulfed the landscape, blotting out the sun and swallowing entire communities. Thousands, dubbed “dust refugees,” sought escape from the ominous black fog that stretched across the nation, reaching as far south as Texas and as east as New York. The White House itself was not immune, as dust infiltrated even the desk of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The gravity of the situation became starkly evident when soil scientist Hugh Hammond Bennett (a fifth cousin of our District Manager), testifying on Capitol Hill about the erosion crisis, dramatically threw back the curtains to reveal a sky obscured by dust. Responding urgently, Congress unanimously passed legislation declaring soil and water conservation a national policy and top priority. Recognizing that the majority of U.S. land was privately owned, Congress understood that success in conservation efforts hinged on the active and voluntary cooperation of landowners.

In 1937, President Roosevelt took a decisive step by writing to the governors of all states, recommending legislation that would empower local landowners to establish soil conservation districts. The inaugural district, the Brown County Soil and Water Conservation District in North Carolina, set the precedent. The momentum quickly spread nationwide, with each state enacting legislation enabling the creation of these districts. Today, the country boasts nearly 3,000 conservation districts, a testament to the enduring legacy of a crucial response to a critical moment in American history.

colorado experience with rocky mountain pbs

The Dust Bowl

The Dustbowl was a dark time for many Coloradans. Between 1862 and 1934 the federal government granted 1.6 million homesteads to Americans under the Homesteading Act of 1862. This episode follows one family who moved west hoping to reap the benefits of the farming boom. Their luck changes as they find themselves in the middle of one of the largest environmental disasters to hit the plains.

Aired: October 9, 2014 | Rating: NR