The Dust Bowl was the name given to the Great Plains region devastated by drought in 1930’s when America was going through the Great Depression. The 150,000 square-mile area included Oklahoma, Texas and sections of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico. This area had little rainfall, light soil, and high winds, a destructive combination. When the drought struck from 1934 to 1937, the soil lacked a strong root system of grass as an anchor, so the winds easily picked up the loose topsoil and swirled it into dense dust clouds, called “black blizzards.” The dust storms wreaked havoc, choking cattle and pasture lands. The black blizzards drove 60 percent of the population from the region.
Ranchers and farmers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, driven by the American agricultural expansion, aggressively exploited the land and set up the region for ecological disaster. Most early settlers used the land for livestock grazing until agricultural mechanization combined with high grain prices during World War I enticed farmers to plow up millions of acres of natural grass cover to plant wheat.
The federal government created several new agencies in response to the crisis, a part of the New Deal act, including the Soil Conservation Service formed in 1935, to promote farm rehabilitation. The government instructed farmers to plant trees and grass to anchor the soil, to plow and terrace in contour patterns to hold rainwater, and to allow portions of farmland to lie fallow each year so the soil could regenerate. The government also purchased 11.3 million acres of land to keep it out of farm production. By 1941 much of the land was rehabilitated, but the region repeated its mistakes during World War II as farmers again plowe...
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...on trees from Canada to Texas to break the wind, hold water in the soil, and hold the soil itself in place. The administration also began educating farmers about soil conservation and techniques to prevent erosion, including crop rotation, strip farming, contour plowing, terracing, and other improved farming practices. In 1937, the federal government began encouraging farmers to adopt planting and plowing methods that conserved the soil. The government paid farmers a dollar an acre to practice the new methods of soil conservation. By 1938, the massive conservation effort had reduced the amount of blowing soil by 65%. In the fall of 1939, after nearly a decade of dirt and dust, the drought ended when regular rainfall finally returned to the region. The government still encouraged continuing the use of conservation methods to protect the soil and ecology of the Plains.
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