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RISING FROM THE DUST— HOW ONE GREAT DROUGHT LED TO THE CREATION OF THE RCD

This year’s rainfall has brought California out of an almost decade-long drought. The mega-drought, which began in 2012, delivered California the driest winter of the century; and as a result of dehydrated landscapes, the state has experienced a surge of wildfires, including the Camp Fire—the area’s deadliest blaze to date.  While the mega-drought of the 20th century may arguably be the worst in the Golden State’s history, it is not the most severe water famine recorded in the United States.  This designation belongs to the drought of 1928-1934, a water scarcity that covered more than 75 percent of the country and led to the infamous Dust Bowl.


Dust storm in Texas from the Historic C&GS Collection. Photo source: Wikimedia

Throughout the 1920s the US had a thriving agricultural industry. While the rest of the country was struggling to survive the Great depression of 1929, farmers working in the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles were known as the most prosperous regions in the nation. However, trouble loomed on the horizon. At the turn of the 20th century, farmers did not incorporate healthy soil practices the same way they do now. Sustainable models that focused on crop rotation and cover cropping were less profitable than the quick turn over of single crops and after decades of mistreatment, soil health was on a rapid decline. Machine technology, like the combine harvester, encouraged farmers to uproot the grasses that would normally trap moisture and soil and replace them with crops that could generate an income. Without these grasses, topsoils loosened and became vulnerable to erratic winds.



This video provides a brief history of the infamous Dust Bowl and life in 1930s America. 

By 1934, the US was in its sixth year of drought and the parched, eroded farmlands could not withstand a season of strong winds.  As dust storms plagued the Southern Plains region of the United States, the same farming families who found success in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico were forced to flee. By the year’s end, over one hundred million acres of farmland had been destroyed by the relentless dust storms. Faced with an agricultural crisis affecting 27 states, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) responded to the Dust Bowl by forming the Soil Conservation Service (1935) and passed federal legislation to encourage healthier soil practices among landowners. In 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote a letter to all 50 state governors proposing legislation that would allow local landowners to form their own locally governed soil conservation districts. Three years later, the first chapter of California’s Soil Conservation District (now known as Resource Conservation District) was formed.

A lot has changed since the days of the Dust Bowl. Nowadays, RCDs can be found all over the country!  While RCDs have shifted their vision from healthy soils to overall resource conservation, they continue to educate landowners and the public about localized environmental issues and the protective measures that can be taken in an effort to conserve. For over a decade,  the Havasi Wilderness Foundation has been working with the Santa Monica Mountains chapter of the RCD (RCSMM), whose focus is environmental education, for over a decade. In that time, HWF has donated funds to ensure that local children can access wilderness education in wild spaces.  During the 2018-2019 school year, RCDSMM has welcomed over 8,000 students to participate in 113 wilderness education programs at Sepulveda Basin, Topanga Canyon State Park, and Malibu Lagoon State Beach.


Members of RCDSMM staff and their Environmental Educators gather for their annual luncheon. Read more about this experience in our upcoming blog.

Our next set of blogs will feature the students, schools, and educators that HWF visited before the summer break. To learn more about  RCDSMM or find out how you can get involved in your local RCD, visit the organizations online.

Phone: +818-532-7341

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The Havasi Wilderness Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to heightening awareness and appreciation of the natural environment.

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