The Dust Bowl was the worst drought in U.S. history, covering more than 75 percent of the country and affecting 27 states severely.  The drought lasted nearly a decade, from 1930-1939. It’s impacts lasted decades longer.  Topsoil from the drought lands were swept as far east as the Atlantic Ocean more than 2,000 mile away.  Approximately, 2.5 million people left the Dust Bowl states during the 1930’s — the largest migration in U.S. history.

In 1935, during the height of the Dust Bowl, Franklin D. Roosevelt received the Schlich Forestry Medal.  In a statement “To the Society of American Foresters” accepting the medal, Roosevelt, who considered himself a tree farmer and a life long conservationist, shared his belief in the vital role forests have in creating a healthier and more livable nation.

forests are the lungs of our landExcerpt:

“A forest is not solely so many thousand board feet of lumber to be logged when market conditions make it profitable. It is an integral part of our natural land covering, and the most potent factor in maintaining Nature’s delicate balance in the organic and inorganic worlds. In his struggle for selfish gain, man has often needlessly tipped the scales so that Nature’s balance has been destroyed, and the public welfare has usually been on the short-weighted side. Such public necessities, therefore, must not be destroyed because there is profit for someone in their destruction. The preservation of the forests must be lifted above mere dollars and cents considerations.

…The forests are also needed for mitigating extreme climatic fluctuations, holding the soil on the slopes, retaining the moisture in the ground, and controlling the equable flow of water in our streams. The forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.”

From 1935 – 1939, the PRAIRIE STATES FORESTRY PROJECT — as part of the Forest Service and U. S. Department of Agriculture, along with the Soil Erosion Service, the “New Deal” Works Progress Administration, state agencies, and local farmers — planted 125,157,199 trees, created 10,954.63 miles of shelterbelts (windbreaks of trees) over six states from Texas to Canada, and changed farming practices nationwide.

It now seems amazing to think that in the midst of one of the worst man-made economic crisis, the Great Depression, and one of the worst man-made environmental disasters, the Dust Bowl, the American people bridged economic and political differences to work together to help our nation change its farming and land-use practices, improve the health and well-being of our citizens, and strengthen ” the lungs of our land ” for generations to come.

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