Soil Conservation Service (SCS) (1935)

The SCS was created by the Soil Conservation Act of 1935, signed by President Roosevelt on April 27, 1935, and placed under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  The new agency was an expansion of the Soil Erosion Service (SES), which had been created in 1933 with funds from the National Industrial Recovery Act [1].

Hugh Bennett headed up both the SES and the SCS and was the guiding force behind the creation of both agencies: “He observed how soil erosion by water and wind reduced the ability of the land to sustain agricultural productivity and to support rural communities who depended on it for their livelihoods.  He launched a public crusade of writing and speaking about the soil erosion crisis.  His highly influential 1928 publication ‘Soil Erosion: A National Menace’ (co-written by William Ridgely Chapline) influenced Congress to create the first federal soil erosion experiment stations in 1929.  With the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as President in 1932, conservation of soil and water resources became a national priority in the New Deal administration” [2].  In addition to Bennett’s advocacy, the drought and dust storms of the southern Great Plains (what became known as the “Dust Bowl”) lent urgency to a national response to soil erosion and the loss of farmland [3].

The SCS addressed soil erosion in a number of ways: Demonstration projects showing conservation techniques; soil science research; management of plant nurseries; flood surveys and flood control plans; support for drainage and irrigation work; snow surveys and water supply forecasts; and more.  Workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration helped with many of these projects [4].  A year after its creation the SCS “had 147 demonstration projects, 48 nurseries, 23 experiment stations, 454 CCC camps, and over 23,000 WPA workers on the job” [5].

The work of the SCS spurred one of the most important conservation developments of the time, state-level soil conservation districts: “In 1937, President Roosevelt wrote the governors of all the states recommending legislation that would allow local landowners to form soil conservation districts…The movement caught on across the country with district-enabling legislation passed in every state.  Today, the country is blanketed with nearly 3,000 conservation districts” [6].

The SCS continued into the postwar era and still exists, but was renamed the Natural Resources Conservation Service by the Federal Crop Insurance Reform and Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 [7].

Sources: (1) “75 Years Helping People Help the Land: A Brief History of NRCS,” Natural Resources Conservation Service, http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/about/history/?cid=nrcs143_021392, accessed March 28, 2015.  (2) Ibid.  (3) Donald Worster, The Dust Bowl.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.  (4) Ibid. and also “History – Soil & Water Conservation History in Alabama,” State of Alabama Soil & Water Conservation Committee, http://swcc.alabama.gov/pages/SWCC_history.aspx?sm=a_c, accessed March 28, 2015.   (5) Douglas Helms, “The Soil Conservation Service: A Historical Note,” in “Readings in the History of the Soil Conservation Service,” http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb1043484.pdf, accessed April 6, 2015.  (6) “Conservation District History,” National Association of Conservation Districts, http://www.nacdnet.org/about/districts/history, accessed March 28, 2015.  (7) “Records of the Natural Resources Conservation Service,” National Archives and Records Administration, http://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/114.html#114.1, accessed March 28, 2015.