Dust Bowl

The creation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts in the United States can be attributed to the on-going work of Bennett in combination with a national crisis that resulted in the collision of the economy and natural resources.


On October 24, 1929 the stock market crashed, sending the country into an economic depression.  This date would come to be known as "Black Thursday".  The depression would last over a decade. 


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Then in 1931 a severe drought hit the Midwest and Southern Plains.  As the crops died, the "Black Blizzards" began.  Dust from the over-plowed and over-grazed land began to blow.


By 1932 the number of dust storms had increased significantly, with 14 reported storms.  This continued with 38 reported storms in 1933.

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In May of 1934 the great dust storms spreed from the Dust Bowl Area.  The drought was the worst ever in U.S. history, covering more than 75 percent of the country and severely affecting 27 states.


In December 1934, the "Yearbook of Agriculture" announces, "Approximately 35 million acres of formerly cultivated land had essentially been destroyed for crop production... 100 million acres now in crops have lost all or most of the topsoil; 125 million acres of land now in crops are rapidly losing topsoil..."

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Due to poor land management practices in the 'Dirty Thirties,' strong winds blew away "more than 480 tons of topsoil per acre, removing an average of five inches of topsoil from more than 10 million acres" (Property and Environmental research Center, 2013).  To provide perspective, it is estimated that an inch of soil takes 500-1,000 years to form (Natural Resources Conservation Services, 2013).  The devastation was vast.  Donald Worster, a leading historian of the Dust Bowl, in his book Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930's, makes reference to the fact that at no other point in history has there been "greater or more sustained damage to the American land" (Worster 1979)

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In essence, the 'dust bowl' effect was caused by sustained drought conditions compounded by years of land management practices that left topsoil susceptible to the forces of the wind.  "The soil, depleted of moisture, was lifted by the wind into great clouds of dust and sane which were so thick they concealed the sun for several days at a time" (NOAA.gov, 2013).  As a result of these dust bowl natural disasters, the agriculture community suffered and in turn contributed to the economy's high unemployment levels, business and bank closures, and extreme hardship of the Great Depression.  Continued poor land management practices increased agricultural vulnerability and simply exacerbated the difficulties. 

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