The Dust Bowl's Prairie States Forestry Project: Model for an Effective Global Climate Change Strategy?.
Thomas Sauer, USDA-ARS, National Soil Tilth Lab USDA-ARS, 2150 Pammel Dr., Ames, IA 50011-3120
Persistent drought, poor soil management, and subsequent wind erosion in the Great Plains during the 1930's had far-reaching social, economic, and environmental consequences. In the midst of the Depression, the federal government developed several programs in response to dire conditions in six of the most severely-affected “Dust Bowl” states. Overcoming significant political obstacles and resource limitations, one of these programs, the Prairie States Forestry Project (PSFP), would eventually plant over 217 million trees in 18,600 miles of shelterbelts in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Viewed by modern standards, the PSFP was conceived, designed, and implemented in an astonishingly short period of time. A critical element of the PSFP success was the keen interest and at times direct involvement of President Roosevelt. FDR took a strong personal interest in the success of the PSFP, which likely encouraged line managers to devote special attention to the project. Many factors regarding seedling selection, site preparation, and planting techniques, however, were developed at the lowest levels within the PSFP. Thus, simultaneous top-down and bottoms-up management styles were used with remarkable effectiveness. Even today, the federal response to the Dust Bowl, including the PSFP and creation of the Soil Erosion Service, represents the largest and most-focused effort of the government to address an environmental problem. Although climate change is much more complex and a global phenomena, there may be important lessons from the PSFP experience. Jared Diamond's 2005 bestselling book “Collapse – How societies choose to fail or succeed” discusses the decision-making processes used by societies to address negative impacts of environmental degradation. The PSFP fits the profile of a successful decision-making process. The challenge lies ahead to engage similar successful decision-making in crafting effective policies and programs for addressing climate change issues.