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Civilian Conservation Corps Fights Erosion

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Sound | 1934

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  •  Among the various activities in which the Conservation Corps is engaged, none perhaps more affects the national welfare more than their work on erosion control. 
  •  Experts tell us that 35 million acres of our cultivated lands have been practically washed away. This great mass of soil washed into our streams and rivers swells the volume of floods and increases their damage and fills reservoirs and irrigation ditches. 
  •  Controlling erosion is therefore one means of controlling floods. These scenes show how one type of erosion has ruined southern cotton land, once rich and productive. 
  •  This extensive waste of national wealth is largely due to human ignorance and carelessness. 
  •  The virgin forest is its own protection against erosion. The thick blanket of rotting leaves or needles checks the runoff, while the matted roots below tend to prevent soil washing.  
  •  Logging operations improperly conducted destroy this forest cover, and lay the soil open to the action of floodwaters.  
  •  Carrying land for farm use has much the same effect as logging, since it destroys the natural cover that protects the virgin soil.  
  •  Extensive erosion has been caused by the carrying of land too steep for cultivation. The result of such ill-advised carrying is shown here.  
  •  Single crop farming is a common practice that leads to great loss by erosion. Whenever a crop like cotton is grown on the same land year after year, the land becomes increasingly subject to washing. This is a common site in little cotton ground. 
  •  Highway culverts built without regard to the lay of the land may also cause erosion.  
  •  Still another, and in many regions a major factor, is the common practice of burning off both fields and woodlands each year. Fires destroy humors in soil and subject it to the cutting action of running water.  
  •  Each year, 100,000 acres of American farmlands are rendered worthless by erosion.  
  •  Fields below eroded areas are frequently ruined by sand washed down from above. Homes are all undermined by gully. This is not an unusual site in badly eroded areas.  
  •  Here is a rural graveyard doomed to destruction by erosion. It is perched on the edge of an abyss, into which it must surely fall before many years are passed. 
  •  In the last stage of destruction by erosion, we have enormous gashes in the surface of the earth, like the Big Hammer Gully in Mississippi, pictured here.  
  •  More striking yet, is the great gully at Lumpkin in Georgia, which is nine miles long, composing a system of deep gorges in which many once productive farms have been swallowed. 
  •  It is to prevent similar destruction that the CCC has undertaken erosion control in badly eroded areas. It is a big job but not hopeless. Even gullies like this may be controlled, if the land is not beyond reclamation for farming.  
  •  In many areas where terracing is practiced, members of the corps build dams to check runoff with terraces. This scene shows Conservation Corps boys excavating for such a check-dam. 
  •  Here we see the workmen laying the foundations of the wall and apron.  
  •  Native stone is used in this case because it is the cheapest material available. 
  •  This is the completed check dam, with Conservation Corps boys building wings to direct floodwaters over the dam.  
  •  Here is a Texas farmstead that was threaten with destruction by a gully and is now protected by check dams. The gully started in a old lane. 
  •  Here we see a long terrace during a torrential rain showing the check dam discharging at the end of the terrace. Another series of well-built check dams photographed during the same rain. 
  •  Just across the road at the same moment, this open ditch without check dams is swept by a raging torrent, carrying a burden of rich Texas soil toward the Gulf of Mexico. 
  •  In the Southern Piedmont country, check dams are built of native timber.  
  •  After the logs have been put in place and the supporting stakes have been driven, an apron is made of straw and brush to take the impact of water flowing over the dam. 
  •  The apron is staked down. The earth about it is tamped hard, and the dam is completed.  
  •  After one rain of the gully washer type, these dams may be almost filled with trapped silt, and the slow process of reclamation of the gully is well begun. 
  •  Here is a large gully, properly treated with adequate check dams and side slopes to facilitate a catch of vegetation. The next step in the reclamation of the gully is the planting of suitable trees and vines to protect the sides from washing.  
  •  This scene shows CC boys planting black locust seedlings. 
  •   The black locust is a hearty rapid-growing tree with an extensive root system and is well adapted to this purpose. 
  •  Another very useful cover plant is the Japanese honeysuckle. This vine now grows wild throughout the southern seaboard and the plants are easily obtained almost anywhere. Here we see a group of boys planting honeysuckle on the sides of a gully. 
  •  A planting of black locust showing the size of the seedlings used. This gully was properly slopped and planted. 
  •  Just how effective planting of black locust may be is shown by this stand of four year old locust in Western Tennessee. Four years after dams were built and seedlings planted, the reclamation of this gully is well advanced. 
  •  The material of the original brush dams is now rotted, the grass has gained a foothold in the soil, anchored by the roots of the locust trees, and erosion is checked. 
  •  Thus this great work of checking erosion goes forward, in some cases operations of considerable magnitude are involved, as for example in the reclamation of the great Hammer Gully reclamation, already mentioned. 
  •  This gully started only four years ago and is now 3,000 feet long and two hundred and fifteen feet wide, and seventy five feet deep. Over 12 million cubic feet of earth has been washed from this one time prosperous farm to the ruined great areas of bottom land below.  
  •  Sand many feet deep now covers the area at the mouth of this big Hammer gully. All these trees are dead, smothered by sand. 
  •  Here we see hay and brush for check dam work being thrown down the side of the Hammer gully.  
  •  This shot gives some idea of the depth and magnitude of the so-called gully that's more properly a canyon. 
  •  Check dam construction practiced here defers in detail from that that we have already seen. Hay and brush are used to form the apron and face of the dam. Stakes are driven to anchor the brush and to serve as a skeleton for the structure.  
  •  Then chicken wire is stretched from stake to stake across the gully, and the mat of brush is packed against this fence on the upper side. 
  •  Here the workmen are anchoring the apron, placing brush against the wire barrier, and putting the finishing touches on the dam.  
  •  When the check dams have been finished, the edges of the gully on both sides are mined with dynamite. 
  •  Then the blast. Hundreds of tons of earth are thrown into the gully by a series of shots the  effectually begin the work of slopping off the sides of the gully to prepare for planting.  
  •  Immediately the boys begin the work of completing by hand the job roughed out by the dynamite. These well seasoned boys rolling earth down with bar and shovel present a striking battle scene.  
  •  With the spirit of crusaders for conservation, these boys are slowly healing the scars caused by years of carelessness. 
  •  C.M. Granger, in charge of Emergency Conservation Work for the Forest Service 
  •  Conservation Corps boys working on the dam 
  •  Texas farmstead showing effectiveness of check dams 
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This Universal Newsreel examines the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps' (CCC) work to alleviate soil erosion on farmland. It highlights the causes and results of erosion and the steps that the CCC has taken to fight it.

The Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, was a national public work relief program established in 1933 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of the New Deal. The CCC hired unmarried men between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five from families on relief to complete various public works projects for the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior. Enrollees were organized into local camps overseen by the U.S. Army, with some camps in Texas comprised of as many as 19,200 men during their peak. Young men from across the nation worked in the Texas camps and contributed to the state's projects, as assignment to CCC camps was random.

In Texas, the majority of the projects completed by the CCC were soil conservation and erosion control operations. Activities including distributing soil conservation information to farmers and making improvements to farmlands and forests. The CCC also contributed to the development of the Texas state park system; they established 56 parks, 31 of which remain operational today. Between 1933 and 1942 (when CCC operations ceased), approximately 50,000 Texans participated in the program.