SWCS History

​In the early 1930's, we had three events, the dust bowl, the depression, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The dust bowl, caused by extremely dry years...

n the early 1930's, we had three events, the dust bowl, the depression, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The dust bowl, caused by extremely dry years and its attendant soil losses made control of erosion more compelling. The loss of farm ownership caused by crop failures from the dust storms was only one of the problems. Loss of active farms, in turn, brought loss of agribusiness in all of its phases. Over-extended retail credit and loss of industrial production caused by the stock market crash of 1929 put a great percentage of the work force on the unemployed list, resulting in the depression. President Roosevelt implemented the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Fortunately for soil conservation, a great man stood on the sidelines. Any history of soil and water conservation should start with its greatest single benefactor, Hugh Hammond Bennett. The son of a plantation owner, Bennett was born April 15, 1881, near Wadesboro, North Carolina. He studied geology and chemistry, graduating from college in 1903.

His first job was as a chemist with the Bureau of Soils, U.S. Department of Agriculture mapping soils. The work carried him to Virginia, Alabama, and New York. While mapping in Louisa County, Virginia, Bennett and a fellow mapper realized that the loss of fertility in the soil was caused by sheet erosion and its results.

In the early 1900's, officials of the Bureau of Soils believed that the soil was indestructible. Bennett's theories were ignored.

Bennett travelled to foreign countries to help cope with soil problems. He continued to preach the gospel of controlling erosion. Finally, in 1929, Congress appropriated $160,000.00 to study soil erosion in the United States. This was the first concentrated effort to solve the problem.

By 1933, ten research stations were set up around the country to measure soil losses. This helped draw the problem to the attention of other government people who had the ear of Franklin D. Roosevelt, then President of the U.S. The Great Depression had started with its bank failures and bread lines. Huge numbers of men were idle. Roosevelt was looking for projects to employ the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) which consisted of young men and the Works Progress Administration for older unemployed workers.

Bennett continued his flamboyant, impressive pleas for government backing of concentrated efforts to control soil erosion.

September 19, 1933 was a memorable date. Funds were appropriated by Congress to set up the Soil Erosion Service under the Department of Interior. Bennett was to be its head. The Soil Erosion Service was changed to Soil Conservation Service (SCS) under the Department of Agriculture in 1935. Bennett assembled teams of engineers, agronomists, biologists, foresters, and soil surveyors. These men were assigned to forty erosion control projects in 31 states. They planned dams, diversion ditches, wind breaks, cover crops, reforestation, etc. They also planned small runoff measurement stations to determine the rate of erosion.

Hugh Hammond Bennett's monument is a better earth.

It was decided that a more efficient method of application of soil conservation would be on a county-by-county basis. The Soil Conservation Districts law was passed. The projects were put on a maintenance basis and the staff transferred to the districts as they were voted in by the various county government bodies.

The high interest of the professional staff of the SCS projects, the CCC camps, and the general public brought about organizations to promote soil conservation in the 1940's. Mainly they were "Friends of the Land" and "Soil Conservation Society of America" (SCSA). The SCSA was organized in 1945 with Hugh Bennett as the original founder. Chapters were chartered in states, parts of states, or groups of states. Later the Society became international.

Interest became high in New York State in 1946. The SCS and other groups such as Cornell University, Syracuse University, New York State Soil Conservation District Association (NYSCD) and the State Committee on Soil Conservation became members of Soil Conservation Society of America (SCSA). There were 43 members living in New York State as of July 13, 1946.

On February 5, 1946, fifteen New York members signed a petition to the Soil Conservation Society Council to establish the Empire State Chapter for the State of New York. This was considered and approved by the Soil Conservation Society Council at Washington, DC on April 4, 1946. The Chapter was to be known as Empire State Chapter, New York 13.

SWCS Empire Chapter: swcsnewyork.org@gmail.com
Copyright 2015 Soil and Water Co​nervation Society. All Rights Reserved.

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