Great Plains Shelterbelt

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Great Plains Shelterbelt
Plains States Forestry Project poster created by the Works Progress Administration (1940)
LocationGreat Plains, United States
Area18,600 square miles

The Great Plains Shelterbelt was a project to create windbreaks in the Great Plains states of the United States, that began in 1934.[1] President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated the project in response to the severe dust storms of the Dust Bowl, which resulted in significant soil erosion and drought. The United States Forest Service believed that planting trees on the perimeters of farms would reduce wind velocity and lessen evaporation of moisture from the soil. By 1942, 220 million trees had been planted, covering 18,600 square miles (48,000 km2)[2] in a 100-mile-wide zone from Canada to the Brazos River. Even as of 2007, "the federal response to the Dust Bowl, including the Prairie States Forestry Project which planted the Great Plains Shelterbelt and creation of the Soil Erosion Service, represents the largest and most-focused effort of the [U.S.] government to address an environmental problem".[3][4]


Map of major planting areas of the shelterbelt project

The "Number One Shelterbelt" is located in Greer County, in southwestern Oklahoma. Oklahoma's first State Forester, George R. Phillips, had the distinction of planting the very first tree in the federal program's very first shelterbelt in 1935." The first tree was an Austrian pine planted on the H.E. Curtis farm near Willow, Oklahoma, on March 18.[3]

The project called for large-scale planting of trees across the Great Plains, stretching in a 100-mile wide zone from Canada to northern Texas, to protect the land from wind erosion. Native trees, such as red cedar and green ash, were planted along fence rows separating properties, and farmers were paid to plant and cultivate them. The project was estimated to cost $75 million over 12 years. When disputes arose over funding sources (the project was considered to be a long-term strategy and therefore ineligible for emergency relief funds), FDR transferred the program to the WPA.[5]

The Great Plains Shelterbelt was allowed under the 1924 Clarke–McNary Act and was carried out by the Works Progress Administration (WPA).[2] Project headquarters were in Lincoln, Nebraska,[6] and Raphael Zon served as the technical director. The U.S. Forest Service and Civilian Conservation Corps assisted.[7] "The Shelterbelt Program of 1935–1942 ... [was] later known as the Prairie States Forestry Project."[8]

By 1942, 30,233 shelterbelts had been planted, which contained 220 million trees and covered 18,600 square miles (48,000 km2).[2]

Restoration efforts in the 21st century[edit]

As of 2010, "Many shelterbelts in Kansas and throughout the central Great Plains are old and are no longer providing the benefits that they used to", according to Kansas State Forester Larry Biles.[9]

As of 2004 in Nebraska,

Today, the growth and vigor of many of the trees has declined due to close spacing, age, and invasion of undesirable, short-lived trees. The Nebraska Forest Service and the Upper Elkhorn Natural Resource District, in cooperation with the Schleusener family, has established two demonstration areas within this windbreak to show methods of improving the condition of the remaining trees and to encourage new growth and establishment of desirable trees. The area closest to the roadway will remain unaltered as a living reminder of the Prairie States Forestry Project and the efforts of Nebraskans to protect our valuable farmland.[7]

In 2010, federal grants were made available for shelterbelt maintenance and restoration in Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska as part of the Central Great Plains Shelterbelt Renovation and the Central Great Plains Forested Riparian Buffer CCPI proposals.[10][11] Funding for the CCPI (Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative) is provided as a project of the Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Fighting the Drouth" Popular Mechanics, October 1934.
  2. ^ a b c Hurt, R. Douglas. "Forestry on the Great Plains, 1902–1942". Kansas State University. Retrieved September 21, 2009.
  3. ^ a b "The "No. 1 Shelterbelt" celebrates 75 years". Southern Group of State Foresters. Retrieved March 2, 2012.
  4. ^ Sauer, Thomas. The Dust Bowl's Prairie States Forestry Project: Model for an Effective Global Climate Change Strategy?. The ASA-CSSA-SSSA International Annual Meetings (November 4–8, 2007). Retrieved March 2, 2012.
  5. ^ "American Experience. Troublesome Creek". PBS. Retrieved March 2, 2012.
  6. ^ Hoagland, Bruce. "Shelterbelts". Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved March 1, 2012.
  7. ^ a b "The Prairie States Forestry Project". Nebraska History. Archived from the original on July 2, 2004. Retrieved March 2, 2012.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  8. ^ Lana, E.. (1980). Growth and survival of shelterbelts. North Dakota State University. Retrieved March 2, 2012. The Clarke–McNary Act of 1924 provided Federal assistance that made it possible for landowners to purchase planting stock at cost. Governmental programs were developed in the 1930s to help relieve the effects of drought in the Great Plains. The Shelterbelt Program of 1935-1942 (later known as the Prairie States Forestry Project) was one of these programs. The purpose of the Shelterbelt Program was twofold: (a) the planting of windbreaks throughout the eastern plains to reduce wind erosion and (b) to provide relief employment. The program was administered by the U.S. Forest Service until 1942, when responsibility was transferred to the Soil Conservation Service. The purpose of the study was to inventory 20 Prairie States Forestry shelterbelts in Cass, Barnes and Ransom counties of southeastern North Dakota.
  9. ^ a b "Shelterbelt Renovation". Kansas NRCS. Retrieved March 2, 2012.
  10. ^ "Funding now available to renovate shelterbelts". Dodge City Daily Globe. Dodge City, Kansas. July 27, 2010. Retrieved March 2, 2012.
  11. ^ "South Dakota Ag Connection – Funds Available to Renovate Shelterbelts, Forested Riparians". Retrieved March 2, 2012.


Further reading[edit]

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