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Posts Tagged ‘Civilian Conservation Corps’

A significant amount of Michigan’s public forests today owe their existence to the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s. Known as “Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” CCC enrollees played a crucial role in reforestation efforts throughout the country during the Great Depression, and nowhere was the impact of their work more significant than in Michigan. Between 1933 and 1942, CCC workers in Michigan planted 485 million trees, more than were planted in any other state.

These plantings by the CCC took place on both state and federal land, but much of it occurred on the five national forests that existed in Michigan by the late 1930s: the Ottawa, Hiawatha and Marquette forests in the Upper Peninsula, and the Manistee and Huron forests to the south (the Marquette was later consolidated with the Hiawatha in 1962, and the two forests in the Lower Peninsula were combined administratively in 1955 to form the Huron-Manistee).

1941 Map of Michigan's National Forests

Michigan’s National Forests in 1941.

Michigan’s massive reforestation effort during the 1930s would not have been possible without the work of tree nurseries administered by the Forest Service. Most of the state’s planting stock was provided by four USFS nursery operations: the Beal Nursery in East Tawas, the Wyman Nursery in Manistique, the Chittenden Nursery in Wellston, and the Toumey Nursery in Watersmeet. By 1941 these nurseries were providing an average of 97 million seedlings each year for Michigan’s national forests.

The visual history of these nurseries is documented in four new image galleries recently added to the FHS website. With more than 150 historic photos, the galleries showcase the important work behind the reforestation efforts which transformed Michigan’s landscape. Continue below to view the photos in each gallery and to learn more about the history of each nursery.

Joseph Sparks, official artist for Huron National Forest, sketching CCC boys at Beal Nursery

Joseph Sparks, official artist for Huron National Forest, sketching CCC boys at Beal Nursery, 1934.

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The following post comes to us courtesy of Stephen J. Pyne, an environmental historian who has written extensively about the history of fire and fire policy and is the author of the FHS Issues Series book America’s Fires. This posting originally appeared on the website AZCentral.com on July 5. It was written after the Yarnell Fire incident that killed 19 hotshot firefighters on June 30, 2013.

“AFTER THE FIRE”

This time it feels personal.

All day I had noticed a film of smoke, and before dinner I watched to the north as the pall thickened and sky roughened into blue cloud, and wondered if there was a fire there, and if the clouds meant the winds would be squirrely, and if they might affect any burn under way. There was and they did.

The news passes, the mourning goes on. So will the contentious interpretation of what happened, and why, and what we might do about it. It does no dishonor to the fallen to note that we’ve seen this too often before and that little new is likely to emerge beyond the sickening particulars. Still, it’s worth rehearsing the basics.

Over the past 140 years we have created, by missteps and unintended consequences, a firescape that threatens both our natural habitat and our built landscape. The problem is systemic, the result of how we live on the land. In many respects it resembles our health care system. Horrors like the Yarnell Hill fire are part of the usually hidden costs.

We know a lot about the issues. We know we need to replace feral fire with tame fire. We know how to keep houses from burning. We know that we face an ecological insurgency that we can’t carpet bomb out of existence or beat down with summer surges of engines and crews, that we have to control the countryside. We know the scene is spiraling out faster than we can scale up our responses: we would need the equivalent of a new Civilian Conservation Corps program to catch up. Every contributing cause points in the same worsening direction.

The political landscape seems an equal shambles. The fundamental issues are not policies, but politics, and not just inadequate funding but an inability to reach consensus about what we want and how to do it. Disaster fires get hijacked to advance other agendas, too many of which are stalemated.

We’ve lost our middle ground, literally—the middle landscape between the extremes, the wild and the urban, that have defined the American West for the past 50 years. The landscape is polarizing as much as society, splitting between green fire and red. We can’t slow sprawl except by recessions. We can’t reconcile wild and working landscapes.  Instead we ask fire crews to plug the gaps. There is little reason to believe that fire casualties in Arizona will jolt the system to self-correct any more than mass killings in Colorado and Connecticut led to gun reform.

Two trends are worth watching. A National Cohesive Strategy for wildland fire that seeks to reconcile resources with risks is in its final development phase. If it succeeds it will serve as a fire constitution, a messy mechanism by which the hundreds of competing interests might work through the necessary compromises with some political legitimacy. We could move fire management beyond emergency response.

The second is that the agencies may adjust internally. They have learned to declare fire-vulnerable houses indefensible and to refuse to commit crews to some high-risk firescapes with limited values. They are often adopting a big-box model in which they pull back to some defensible barrier and burn out. They may expand the notion of defensibility to include whole communities and landscapes when conditions are extreme—exactly the time the bad fires are likely to rage. At such moments communities would have to rely on their own preparations.

We would move toward a hurricane model of protection. You’re warned. You board up the windows and either leave or stay. The fire blows through. The crews move back and hit hot spots. The community returns.  In the case of natural landscapes, the mountain burns over.  We try to rebuild more resilient fire regimes out of the aftermath. A troubling prospect, but we’ve lost the chance to get ahead of the burn rate, and the gears of the Cohesive Strategy could easily freeze up when the time comes for real money and decisions.

Once the flame of grief passes, the shouting will begin again. But maybe this time we can make the political personal. We can fix what is within our hands. We can look inside and ask if we are ready to have others pay the price for how we live on the land. We can at least pause and in a moment of silence listen to the still small voice that comes after the fire.

Steve Pyne

School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University

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A flash of light woke me around 3 am. I thought someone had flicked a light in the bedroom and left the water running in the bathroom. But then I remembered. I was in a tent. The running water was from the nearby stream, the flash was lightning. In that foggy no-man’s land where my brain resides when awakened from a dead sleep, several related thoughts raced through it at once: Damn, the forecasters were right after all—rain. But for how long? The entire race? Was it cold, too? Didn’t matter, I reminded myself. I was going to run regardless. I’d heard from the office Friday afternoon that the Dash for the ‘Stache had already raised $1,600 and I couldn’t disappoint those folks (the total is now over $2,000—and you can still give). I just hoped that it wouldn’t rain Saturday night, too. My last thought before drifting back to sleep was that Smokey Bear would be pleased. Our campfire was good and drowned.

cradle_tent

Friday evening’s weather was perfect for camping. Friday night’s weather was perfect for ducks.

About two hours later, I woke up to find my lower back cold and wet. Now all I could think of was the sign on the footbridge from the parking area to the campsite that warned of flash floods. My brain immediately went there—I’m about to become the subject of a freak news story, the camper swept away in a flash flood. I reached behind me and found a puddle, not a stream. Okay, maybe I won’t float away after all. But the sleeping bag was acting like a sponge and soaking up the water. I tried spinning and contorting like an acrobat to avoid the wet spot, but there was no way to escape it. It was done and so was I. I listened to the slow thwip thwip thwip of the water coming from the roof peak and on to the sleep pad for a few more minutes. The rain outside sounded like it was coming down harder than before, which meant it was going to do the same inside. I sighed as I began the process of extricating myself from the synthetic cocoon, all the while trying to avoid the puddle and wet bag. I got dressed, found my headlamp so I could see to tie the boot laces, grabbed my jacket and hat, and headed for the bathroom and then the car for a little more sleep, if I was lucky.

As I approached the car, it was light enough that I could barely make out Jason sleeping in his car. New to trail running but not camping, he had taken the forecast seriously and decided not to risk using a worn-out rain fly and opted to spend the night in his car. He was looking like a genius. Then I heard POP POP POP POP. Gunshots? At 5:30 in the morning? Who’d be hunting in this weather? Get a life, I thought. And get in the car. Wearing a green raincoat in this low light, I might be mistaken for a deer or Sasquatch’s shorter brother. I climbed in my car and shed my raincoat so I wouldn’t be sitting in another puddle. And then I heard what sounded like a large creaking door followed by WHOMP. That got my attention. I hadn’t heard gunshots—it was a tree snapping and then falling over. Oh, crap, I thought. I hope that tree didn’t just block the road. We’d never make the race.

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Eighty years ago, Rudy Wendelin was a young artist fresh out of the University of Kansas School of Architecture struggling like many others to find work during the Great Depression. Relief came in 1933 when he applied for a job in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, under the new Civilian Conservation program launched that same year. Wendelin got the job, a position as a draftsman with Region 9 of the U.S. Forest Service, and immediately began turning out various artwork, signs, displays, publications, architectural drawings, and much more for the agency. By 1936 the local newspapers were referring to him as “the Ding Darling of the United States [Forest] Service” after the famed cartoonist Jay Darling. Within four years Wendelin would be promoted to the Forest Service’s national office in Washington, DC, and go on to become well known as the primary artist and “caretaker” of Smokey Bear. His time in Milwaukee working on CCC projects, though, was a crucial step towards this future career success.

During his final year working for Region 9, Wendelin drew a series of sketches depicting the forestry work of the CCC that were used in an instructional pamphlet given to enrollees. Woodsmanship for the Civilian Conservation Corps, published annually from 1937 to 1941, served as a guide to using various tools, basic first-aid, poisonous plants and insects, and an introduction to conservation and forestry. Some of the artwork was also used in other CCC materials, like recruitment flyers. The cover image captures the spirit of the CCC then and the perception of it today—the strapping young man made strong from the work and smiling with gratitude for the opportunity.

“The mountains and forests of this country may seem a wilderness to those of the Civilian Conservation Corps who come from the cities and farms,” read the pamphlet’s text. “Experience in the C.C.C. . . . will, however, call for what is known as ‘Woodsmanship’ – the ability to live and work safely, conduct yourself in accordance with your surroundings, and adapt yourself to your environment. No one can be taught woodsmanship out of a book, but here are a few traits of a good woodsman.”

View selections of Wendelin’s CCC art from Woodsmanship below, and consult the Rudolph Wendelin Papers in the FHS archives for further information.

CCC artUsing the Shovel, CCC artwork.
Fighting Fires, CCC artwork. lookout tower art.
Carrying the Crosscut, CCC artwork.
Carrying the D.B. Ax
Felling Trees, CCC artwork.Drill Ye Tarriers
Holding the Ax
Planting Trees, CCC artwork.
Always Break your Matches
Dragon art.

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This holiday season we turn to the U.S. Forest Service History Collection for a little fun artwork. The “Service Bulletin” was the newsletter, initially issued weekly and then later monthly, published by the Washington Office (WO) to keep employees abreast of the latest information from DC and around the nation. They typically were 6 or 8 pages in length, and included submitted news pieces, announcements, and even reminiscences from retiring employees. They are a treasure trove of insight and information about the agency during the period from 1920 to 1942. The Service Bulletin was different from the Information Bulletin, also issued from the WO. That came out every few days and typically was the front-and-back of one page. Items were just a couple of sentences in length, sometimes delivered in list form. We have a run of those from its launch in 1936 through 1956, with a break between 1951 and 1954.

Eleven months out of the year, the WO was all business—only the December issue of the Service Bulletin had cover art, and naturally its theme was tied to the holiday season. The artists who designed the December covers vary, as does the featured subject matter. Some are lighthearted, like the one from 1940 by Rudy Wendelin, whose holiday art we’ve featured before. Others reflect the accomplishments of the past year, such as the one from 1932, when the Copeland Report was issued. We’ve opted to share just a sampler of the covers. And instead of interpreting them for you, we’ll instead let these act as a holiday history exam. Do you know what happened and why it was deemed important enough to document in the artwork? We’ve given you the link to find the answer to “What was the Copeland Report?” Answer correctly to avoid getting a lump of coal in your stocking!

1922 Forest Service Bulletin

Service Bulletin – 1922 (William Greeley was chief for this one and the next one)

1926 Service Bulletin

Service Bulletin – 1926

1932 Forest Service Bulletin

Service Bulletin – 1932 (Robert Stuart was chief)

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Between 1891 and 1938, forestry in North Carolina saw many changes. The state government hired its first state employee to carry out forestry work in 1891; its first professionally trained forester, John Simcox Holmes, in 1909; and its first fire wardens in 1915 (four years after the Weeks Act had passed). However, when Holmes was given the titles of State Forester and State Forest Warden in 1915, no additional funding was appropriated for the positions. In 1922, the North Carolina state legislature gave less than $3,000 to the state for fire protection. Nonetheless, twenty counties matched state funds and each hired a fire warden. In 1926, the state constructed its first fire tower, in Harnett County. Between 1933 and 1938, the Civilian Conservation Corps helped build 52 new fire towers, as well as hundreds of miles of telephone line, roads, and trails, while also assisting with other forest beautification projects. By 1936, two-thirds of the state’s forests had been brought under organized fire protection.

Photographs featuring this history were tucked away in a box in a dilapidated warehouse in Clayton, North Carolina, when Coleman Doggett gained permission to retrieve them in the 1970s. The staff at the Forest History Society has since processed over 500 photographs from Doggett’s collection and posted a finding aid to the collection. The photographs, taken between 1923 and 1947, feature various aspects of forestry in North Carolina, such as lookout towers, fire control (both fire lines and controlled burns), exhibits, groups and gatherings, machinery, roads, and signs. A portion of those images may be found in a new photo gallery.

A few gems from the collection can be found below.

North Carolina state forester John Simcox (J.S.) Holmes with warden D.L. Moser at Mt. Mitchell State Park, 1923.

D. L. Moser (right), the first forest warden of Mt. Mitchell State Park, with J. S. Holmes (left), North Carolina’s first state forester, at Mt. Mitchell State Park in 1923 (CD9).

Nursery bed,  Mount Mitchell State Park, 1928. Ed Wilson, park warden, in background. Yancey County, NC.

This photo, taken in 1928, shows park warden Ed Wilson standing behind a four-year-old Southern Balsam (or Fraser fir) that was planted by D. L. Moser in 1924. Moser began experimenting to see if he could artificially repopulate Fraser fir forests (CD5).

Lorain Dragline purchased by Riegel Parker Corp. in March 1939 and turned over to CCC for road construction, Brunswick County, NC.

This Lorain Dragline was purchased in 1939 for approximately $1,200 by Riegel Paper and turned over to the Civilian Conservation Corps for road construction projects (CD39).

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The following is an op-ed piece written by FHS staff historian James G. Lewis that appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times on February 19, 2012.

In his State of the Union address last month and again at a recent press event, President Obama touted the idea of “a new conservation program that would help put veterans to work rebuilding trails, roads and levees on public lands,” according to the Associated Press. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) of the 1930s could be viewed as a model for what the administration will try to accomplish through its “Veterans Jobs Corps.” The administration will propose spending $1 billion that could put an estimated 20,000 veterans to work restoring habitat and eradicating invasive species, among other activities, the AP report stated.

Why would the Obama administration want a new conservation corps? Perhaps because nearly 80 years after the first one was established, we are still reaping its benefits. The CCC was established in 1933 primarily to do two things: put unemployed men to work and to help restore the land. In 1933, the unemployment rate was 25 percent; national forests and national parks had a backlog of projects and restoration needs but lacked the manpower and money to do the work. States like South Carolina had no state park system for similar reasons.

Civilian Conservation Corps trail maintenance crew in the Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina, in 1937. (FHS Photo Collection, MAC119)

The combination of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the devastated agricultural sector forced thousands to abandon their farms and leave behind depleted lands. President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration bought up millions of acres of this land and put the CCC to work restoring it. The result was an expansion of the Eastern national forests from around 5 million acres in 1932 to 19 million acres by 1942 and their restoration. No one is suggesting that the federal government buy land, but the idea of restoring the land as FDR did is one worth serious discussion and consideration.

The CCC operated from 1933 until 1942 and employed 3 million men between the ages of 18 and 25 (even though first lady Eleanor Roosevelt supported its establishment, a female-only version of the CCC didn’t last long because of cultural and gender mores at the time).

The workers lived in camps and were given “three hots and a cot” along with job training and the opportunity to fill gaps in their education as well as their growling stomachs. The men of the CCC constructed trails, buildings, dams and roads, and planted millions of trees that helped restore exhausted land. South Carolina used CCC muscle and money to build its state park system from scratch. In North Carolina, the CCC built the Blue Ridge Parkway and roads and trails in the national forests. The CCC has often been called one of the greatest New Deal programs, and with good reason. While healing abused forests and fields, the men gained their health and self-esteem; they restored the land, and the land restored them.

Today, the unemployment rate may be slowly coming down, but the so-called “underemployment rate” — those who are unemployed plus those either working part time but would prefer full-time work, or have stopped searching for jobs — stubbornly remains above 15 percent.

Infrastructure around the country is dire need of repair — bridges need replacing, and overgrown forests need thinning. Ironically, a present-day Veterans Conservation Corps would be undoing some of the damage of the original CCC by thinning forests and removing invasive species planted to stop soil erosion. It might even be replacing bridges and buildings built in the 1930s.

The thousands of troops returning home face a difficult job market but possess practical experience in building and repairing infrastructure. Many soldiers have spent years “nation-building” in Iraq and Afghanistan; the United States has spent billions of dollars on those endeavors while our own infrastructure has gone neglected, with catastrophic results, like the Minnesota bridge collapse in 2007, for example.

The Obama administration recognizes that a strong America in the future requires hard work now. A Veterans Jobs Corps program would be an investment in the future of America’s youth and environment. Let them restore the land, and the land will restore them.

James G. Lewis is the staff historian at the Forest History Society and the author of “The Forest Service and the Greatest Good: A Centennial History.” To view the newsprint version of this, click here: CCC op-ed.

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To help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Weeks Act, we’ve asked Dr. Bob Healy of Duke University’s Nicholas School for the Environment and co-author of classic book, The Lands Nobody Wanted, to write a series of blog posts about the impact of the law. We invite you to join the conversation and post comments for Bob to respond to.

In an earlier blog post—and indeed in the book The Lands Nobody Wanted—I noted with some fascination the remarkably low prices that the Forest Service paid for land acquired under authority of the Weeks Act, especially in the 1930s. We are accustomed today to regard almost any land as being a fairly valuable asset. If it isn’t immediately useful today, we think, it will find some use tomorrow. And rural land in the well-watered eastern half of the country almost invariably has grown up in trees, not necessarily valuable in themselves due to their form, species, or lack of markets, but pretty to look at and home to a variety of wildlife. We also know that land has tended to be a rather good inflation hedge in the long run, and even (somewhat like gold) a “safe haven” for investors in troubled economic times. Even when stocks and bonds are going down, land has in recent decades often maintained its value or even increased it. This was true in two of the last severe recessions (1973-75) and (2008-present), when commodity prices, and the price of commodity-producing land, rose even while other investments were cratering.*

None of the factors mentioned above was at work during the Great Depression. Commodity prices were extremely low, money was very hard to borrow, the economy was experiencing deflation rather than inflation, and the public was pessimistic about the future. Some of the very cheapest Weeks Act land was that purchased in the southeastern U.S. during the mid-1930s. The low price of this land was remarkable, even by the standards of the Great Depression. Consider that a nationwide survey of construction workers done by the government in 1936 found average wages of $0.92 per hour, or $7.36 for an eight hour day. Another source estimates average wages per year in 1935 at $1,368, or $6.25 per day. And Franklin Roosevelt fought for a national minimum wage of $0.25 per hour, or $2.00 per day. Using these as guidelines, an average day’s work for an employed person could have bought almost three acres in Alabama’s Clay County ($2.14 per acre) or Cleburne County ($2.36), or nearly two acres in Bibb County ($3.23 per acre) or Perry County ($3.40). Even a person making the national minimum wage could have purchased more than half an acre with a day’s work!

Intrigued, I recently visited two units of the Talladega National Forest, in north-central Alabama. What could I learn about this VERY cheap land and what has happened to it today? Some of the results were predictable, others surprising. I had assumed that the land had belonged to poor, unproductive farms, perhaps tenant farms, and that low product prices and debt had forced people off the land. And that the Civilian Conservation Corps had reforested the old farmland, as it had in so many other places in the East and South. The actual situation is somewhat more complicated.

FHS2934

Wind erosion has banked soil against fence, Alabama, 1952 (FHS2934). The soil is similar to what was found in land that is now part of the Talladega National Forest.

The easternmost of the two forest units is the Shoal Creek Ranger District, northeast of Montgomery; the westernmost is the Oakmulgee Ranger District, south of Tuscaloosa. Both districts have significant amounts of what once was farmland—farms on poor soils, low in nutrients, and badly damaged by continual cropping of cotton and other row crops. The structure of much of this soil—clay mixed with sand—is such that it melts like sugar in a hard rain, creating gullies that can very easily get out of control in a single season. A great deal of land in both districts, however, consists of stony, highly dissected hills. This land was not suitable for cropping—though some unfortunate people tried. It was, however, mostly covered by extensive stands of longleaf pines. (more…)

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On this day in history, leading conservationist Gifford Pinchot and six other foresters founded the Society of American Foresters in Washington, D.C.  In its 108-year history, the Society has grown to become the largest professional organization for foresters in the world. Currently representing more than 15,000 forestry professionals and students working in private industry, educational settings, and local, state and federal government, SAF strives to advance the science and professional management of forest resources, enhance member competency, and promote sound forest management and conservation practices for the health of forest ecosystems.

The Forest History Society is the fortunate steward of the records of the Society of American Foresters — 449.5 linear feet, with more additions anticipated!  To describe SAF’s beginnings, I defer to the original meeting minutes, which we hold in our collection, to provide an account:

Washington, D.C. November 30, 1900.

Minutes of the First Meeting of the Society of American Foresters.

An informal meeting of foresters was called at the office of Mr. Pinchot on the morning of November 30th.  There were present Mr. [Gifford] Pinchot, Mr. [Overton] Price, Mr. [William] Hall, Mr. [Ralph] Hosmer, Mr. [Thomas] Sherrard, Mr. [E. T.] Allen, and Mr. [Henry] Graves.  It was stated that the object of the meeting was to discuss the feasibility of organizing a Society of American Foresters.  All those present were in favor of the organization of such a Society.

Mr. Pinchot was appointed temporary Chairman, and Mr. Graves temporary Secretary, in order that the Society might be formally organized.

A motion was made, seconded, and carried, that the society be known as the Society of American Foresters.  It was then moved and seconded that a committee of three be appointed by the Chair for the purpose of making recommendations as to the complete organization of this society. The Chair appointed Mr. Graves, Chairman, Mr. Price and Mr. Hosmer.  It was then decided that the Chair should call a meeting as soon as the report of the committee was ready.

Henry S. Graves, Sec’y Protem

Today also marks another significant event in forest history: the first appearance of a guest blogger on Peeling Back the Bark!  To celebrate the anniversary of SAF’s founding, we have invited historian Char Miller, senior fellow of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, to comment.  In his entry, Miller recalls fledgling efforts at professional forestry, debates within the field, and forestry’s responsiveness to shifting challenges.

As Miller offers an overview of SAF, the rest of this post will highlight some interesting finds in our archival holdings.

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