December 1, 2012

The Great Plains shelterbelt plan

If you watched Ken Burns' "The Dust Bowl" documentary, you saw some brief references to a large plan to create a network of shelterbelts, or wind breaks, throughout the Great Plains. I did a bit of digging around, and found some interesting photos and tidbits about this program.

For Cornhuskers, you might be interested to know that Lincoln, Nebraska was home to this regional project for the USDA Forest Service. The USDA Agroforestry Research Center on the East Campus of UNL is the modern-day, visible sign of this federal investment in the midst of the Depression.

The US Forest Service archives have a couple cool photos that I thought I would share here. It is an example of how the landscape of the Great Plains has been altered by government policies. The shelterbelt program was credited with slowing wind erosion in local areas.

The US Forest Service estimates that shelterbelts were placed on 30,000 farms (over 200 million trees), and the total length of shelterbelts was 18,600 miles (circumference of the earth at equator: approximately 25,000 miles).

The addition of trees to the Plains has had far-reaching effects on wildlife diversity as well. More deer, turkeys, and shrub and forest-dwelling birds now populate the Plains.

Public Photos:
Map of areas of highest planting intensity, 1935-42, available on-line at:

Photo of Raphael Zon, standing in front of map of proposed planting areas, available on-line at:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post and the links. Lincoln was the headquarters for tree planting to fight the Dust Bowl; the office was headed by Paul Roberts. Lincoln may have been chosen because it was home to the great botanists Charles Bessey, Frederic Clements, and USDA's own Carl Hartley. Hartley and Charles Whitfield, who pioneered conservation techniques in Texas, were disciples of Clementsian ecology and had studied in Clements' ecology labs. Interestingly, Clements was born on the site of what is today Morrill Hall.