Thursday, August 28, 2008

Soil Conservation Service

This May 5, 1940, image depicts Yanceyville, North Carolina, Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees releasing a queen bee into a new hive. Honey from these hives was provided to the camp mess (NRCS image — click to enlarge).

Roll call at camp SCS-NC-5, Yanceyville, North Carolina, May 4, 1940
-- National Archives College Park 35G No 228CC (click to enlarge)

Enrollee sighting through an engineer’s level at camp SCS-NC-5,

Yanceyville, North Carolina -- National Archives-College Park 35G No 263

(click to enlarge)

The Civilian Conservation Corps played a critical role in the history of the Soil Conservation Service, predecessor to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. March 31, 2008, marks the 75th anniversary of President Franklin Roosevelt’s signing of the law authorizing the Emergency Conservation Work, the earlier official name of the CCC. As Governor of New York, FDR had hired unemployed youth to reforest abandoned farmland. In 1932, one-fourth of America's men between the ages of 15 and 24 could not find work. Another 29 percent worked only part-time. Incoming President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed on March 21, 1933, that Congress create "a civilian conservation corps to be used in simple work, not interfering with normal employment, and confining itself to forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, flood control, and similar projects."

Soil Erosion Service

Later that year on September 19, a soil scientist in the Bureau of Chemistry and Soils Hugh Hammond Bennett was selected to direct a new agency -- the Soil Erosion Service (SES) in the Department of the Interior. Bennett had been supervising a group of soil conservation experiment stations in soil erosion problem areas. He proposed to establish watershed-based demonstration projects near the research stations where the new agency could utilize the information from the stations to demonstrate the practicability of using soil and water conservation methods. He knew that the work of CCC enrollees could be invaluable in convincing the cash-strapped farmers during the Depression to try new methods that required some labor to install. The CCC allotted 22 camps, far fewer than had been requested, to the Soil Erosion Service for the third camp period, April 1-September 30, 1934. and then extended them for the fourth enrollment period October 1, 1934 – March 31, 1935. Another 17 camps were assigned, making a total of 51 camps for the fourth period. Practically all of these camps were located on the demonstration project work areas. As the drought deepened, another 18 camps were assigned to SES specifically for drought relief work.

Soil Conservation Service

The successful demonstration during the period September 1933 to April 1935 increased the support for a national soil conservation policy and program. When the act of April 27, 1935, created the Soil Conservation Service in the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Congress provided more funds and the new Service expanded its operations nationwide. In fiscal year 1937, SCS supervised the work of an average 70,000 enrollees occupying 440 camps. Ninety percent of the camps worked not on a watershed-based demonstration project but in a 25,000 acre work area. As local communities began organizing soil conservation districts and signing cooperative agreements with USDA in 1937, SCS began supplying a CCC camp to further each district's conservation program. During the life of CCC, SCS supervised the work of more than 800 of the 4,500 camps. African-American enrollees worked in more than 100 of those camps.

CCC Indian Division

SCS also supervised work by Indian CCC enrollees on the Navajo Project area, which was composed of the Navajo and Zuni reservations and the Pueblos. The Indian CCC, which was initially designated the Indian Emergency Conservation Work (IECW) and after 1937 the Civilian Conservation Corps-Indian Division (CCC-ID), differed significantly from the CCC operations on the public and private lands. At the request of Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved a separate Indian CCC on April 27, 1933. The CCC had a goal of organizing camps of 200 to 250 men. The Indian CCC could establish smaller camps and in some cases establish family camps.

In fact, camps were not required in the in CCC-ID as some enrollees lived at home and traveled daily to the work site. All enrollees were Indians. The employees of SCS and the Bureau of Indians Affairs (BIA) were combined into the Navajo Service. In this working arrangement, SCS employees supervised many Indian CCC enrollees on the Navajo Project. On other reservations, BIA supervised the work alone.


The experience for both SCS staff and the enrollees, provided SCS a trained technical core of workers for years to come. Former enrollees joined the staff and during the early years, CCC funds provided for nearly half of the agency's workforce. In addition to contributing to the passage of the Soil Conservation Act of 1935, the CCC also was instrumental in helping the soil conservation district movement get a healthy start. When the states began enacting soil conservation district laws in 1937, it came as no surprise to the SCS field force that the first districts were organized near CCC camp work areas. CCC's real contribution, however, lay in proving the feasibility of conservation. The positive public attitude associated with CCC work, including soil conservation, helped to create an atmosphere in which soil conservation was regarded, at least in part, as a public responsibility. Your contact is NRCS Senior Historian J. Douglas Helms, at 202-720-3766.

Natural Resources Conservation Service

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