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NRCS History

Hugh Hammond Bennett

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) presents a documentary on soil conservation pioneer Hugh Hammond Bennett, the history of our agency and the birth of the private lands conservation movement in the U.S. 

NRCS History

Picture of Dust Bowl Farmer

In the early 1930's, along with the greatest depression this nation ever experienced, came an equally unparalleled ecological disaster known as the Dust Bowl. Following a severe and sustained drought in the Great Plains, the region's soil began to erode and blow away, creating huge black dust storms that blotted out the sun and swallowed the countryside. Thousands of "dust refugees" left the black fog to seek better lives. But the storms stretched across the nation. They reached south to Texas and east to New York. Dust even sifted into the White House and onto the desk of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Picture of 1930's Dust Bowl

On Capitol Hill, while testifying about the erosion problem, soil scientist Hugh Hammond Bennett threw back the curtains to reveal a sky blackened by dust. Congress unanimously passed legislation declaring soil and water conservation a national policy and priority. Since about three-fourths of the continental United States is privately owned, Congress realized that only active, voluntary support from landowners would guarantee the success of conservation work on private land.

One of the first relief programs set up by President Roosevelt was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) under the New Deal Program. It was an agency authorized by the government to hire young unemployed men for public conservation work. The personnel of the CCC had great pride in their work as they conserved and developed natural resources by planting trees, building dams, construction parks, and building experimental terraces to control water and other conservation practices.

The CCC was the forerunner of the Erosion Control Service, created by Congress in August of 1933 under the Department of the Interior. In March of 1935, the Soil Erosion Service was transferred to the Department of Agriculture.

In a partnership between USDA and local government was a memorandum of understanding between SCS and the Conservation Districts, it was agreed the Service would furnish trained and qualified technicians to carry out a conservation program in the districts. In April 1935 the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) was established. The CCC was never technically abolished but it moved into the pages of history in 1942 when Congress refused to fund it and the end was inevitable.