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FDR creates Civilian Conservation Corps

FDR creates Civilian Conservation Corps

On April 5, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt establishes the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), an innovative federally funded organization that put tens of thousands of Americans to work during the Great Depression on projects with environmental benefits.

READ MORE: 6 Projects the Civilian Conservation Corps Accomplished

In 1932, FDR took America’s political helm during the country’s worst economic crisis, declaring a “government worthy of its name must make a fitting response” to the suffering of the unemployed. He implemented the CCC a little over one month into his presidency as part of his administration’s “New Deal” plan for social and economic progress. The CCC reflected FDR’s deep commitment to environmental conservation. He waxed poetic when lobbying for the its passage, declaring “the forests are the lungs of our land [which] purify our air and give fresh strength to our people.”

The CCC, also known as “Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” was open to unemployed, unmarried U.S. male citizens between the ages of 18 and 26. All recruits had to be healthy and were expected to perform hard physical labor. Blacks were placed in de-facto segregated camps, although administrators denied the practice of discrimination. Enlistment in the program was for a minimum of 6 months; many re-enlisted after their first term. Participants were paid $30 a month and often given supplemental basic and vocational education while they served. Under the guidance of the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, CCC employees fought forest fires, planted trees, cleared and maintained access roads, re-seeded grazing lands and implemented soil-erosion controls. They built wildlife refuges, fish-rearing facilities, water storage basins and animal shelters. To encourage citizens to get out and enjoy America’s natural resources, FDR authorized the CCC to build bridges and campground facilities. From 1933 to 1942, the CCC employed over 3 million men.

Of Roosevelt’s many New Deal policies, the CCC is considered by many to be one of the most enduring and successful. It provided the model for future state and federal conservation programs. In 1942, Congress discontinued appropriations for the CCC, diverting the desperately needed funds to the effort to win World War II.

READ MORE: Did New Deal Programs Help End the Great Depression?

FDR's Conservation Legacy

FDR dedicates Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1940.

The land surrounding FDR's home at Hyde Park nurtured a life-long interest in nature and the environment. He first drew substance from this land as a young boy riding horseback with his father. FDR's conservation ethic took root and flourished during a lifetime of exploring and caring for the place where, in 1912, he began to practice scientific forest management. He would plant half a million trees in Hyde Park during his lifetime—work conducted in cooperation with the State University of New York College of Science and Forestry at Syracuse.

His cousin, Theodore Roosevelt (TR), was an early influence. FDR's political career, which mirrored TR's, also paralleled his maturing interest in conservation.

As a young politician, FDR was becoming a leader in conservation. As chair of the New York State Senate's Forest, Fish and Game Committee he introduced eight bills addressing conservation, including the Roosevelt-Jones Bill to regulate timber harvests on private land. To garner support for his bill, FDR invited the first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, to address the New York State Assembly. Pinchot's illustrated talk, depicting the denuding of a Chinese forest and the threats of a "timber famine" was a pivotal moment in FDR's growth as a conservationist.

All in a Name

No two Presidents have had more influence over the protection of our nation's natural resources than Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. Both championed the nation's first widespread conservation efforts.

Theodore Roosevelt created the United States Forest Service, established 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments by enabling the 1906 American Antiquities Act. He protected approximately 230 million acres of public land during his presidency.

Building upon TR's legacy, FDR created the Civilian Conservation Corps, reorganized and expanded the National Park Service, and fostered numerous acts and legislation protecting the environment, providing a basis for future conservation.

The Conservation Governor

As governor of New York, FDR cited the benefits of forests during a radio address on March 31, 1930. "They protect the head waters of our rivers and streams, they prevent the too rapid run-off of rain and melting snow and tend to equalize the flow of streams. They return to the land more than they take from it and maintain its fertility."

FDR supported the 1931 Hewitt Reforestation Amendment to the New York Constitution which resulted in planting tree seedlings on thousands of acres of abandoned farmland with depleted soils and significant erosion.

In August 1931, FDR used the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA) to put unemployed men to work on conservation projects. Over 10,000 men built fire roads, fought soil erosion, and planted seedlings on the marginal farmlands purchased through the Hewitt Amendment. Successful at the state level, TERA became a model for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

A New Deal for Conservation

On April 5, 1933, one month after FDR became President, he signed Executive Order 6101 (Emergency Conservation Work Act) creating the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). This act addressed two pressing needs, unemployment and the repair of environmental damage, with one of the most successful New Deal programs.

Employing three million men over nine years, the CCC played a critical role in FDR's strategy to conserve land and natural resources and raised public awareness of the outdoors and the importance of natural resource preservation.

Across the nation, the CCC planted three billion trees, built campgrounds and trails, removed invasive plants, improved wildlife habitats, and fought tree-killing insects. They also preserved historic sites, built roads, bridges, and dams. Forty million acres of farmlands benefited from erosion control projects, 154 million square yards of stream and lake shores were protected, 814,000 acres of range were revegetated, and stocked 972 million fish were stocked.

FDR's National Park Vision

Conservation and preservation often go hand in hand. FDR protected many unique areas across the country. When created in 1916, the National Park Service focused primarily on the conservation of spectacular landscapes, mostly in the West, and prehistoric native sites. FDR expanded the National Park Service mission in 1933 to include not only parks and monuments but also national cemeteries, national memorials, and national military parks. He also added the parks in Washington, D.C. The reorganization paved the way for inclusion of historic sites such as the Vanderbilt Mansion and FDR's own home, which he made part of the national park system in 1939 and 1943. With sweeping legislation, FDR was responsible for adding over one-quarter of the 411 areas in today's National Park Service system.

Equally important, the 1933 reorganization introduced new regions of the country to the National Park Service. FDR diversified the definition of national treasures. As he saw it, history, culture, and nature all played roles in the exceptional saga and unfolding legacy of the United States. "There is nothing so American," he said, "as our national parks."

A Conservation Legacy

Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs, combined with his enthusiasm for conservation, laid a firm foundation for protecting the nation's natural bounty. The extent of the conservation projects carried on during the New Deal was far more reaching than anything attempted before. Soil erosion control, water conservation, the preservation of wildlife, and other environmental protection activities became a part of the everyday life and activities of American citizens. The importance of the work was new and inspiring. Under his leadership, FDR's programs introduced new concepts on a national level in planning for the responsible use of our natural and historic resources.

FDR left a conservation legacy essential to a healthy 21st-century environment—one that we continue to build upon today.

Creation of the CCC

Those were the days of desperation out of which the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was created. Roosevelt saw an opportunity to mobilize hundreds of thousands of young men and put them to work in the service of nature. This “Tree Army,” as it became known, would be stationed in forests, parks, and rangelands throughout the United States and complete projects that would benefit both the land and CCC participants. In a letter to Congress, FDR wrote, “More important, however, than the material gains, will be the moral and spiritual value of such work.” It was a time when people needed not just a job, but a purpose.

Within three months after the bill was signed, approximately 275,000 young men were enrolled in the CCC looking for work and a way to provide for their families. As one of the “boys,” you were paid $30 per month, $25 of which was sent directly home. In return, you were expected to work six days a week, live in camp, and abide by the rules. At the end of the day, the food was hot and plentiful. Many were getting three square meals a day for the first time in their lives.

The American people weren’t the only ones facing hard times. Across the country, natural resources were being lost to poor conservation, heavy use, and severe drought. In Maine, one of the newer national parks was struggling. Even though Acadia National Park had been created 17 years earlier, it was still rural, small, and undeveloped. Most areas were overgrown and inaccessible, and the facilities were inadequate for the park’s large number of visitors.

Courtesy National Park Service/Acadia National Park

How FDR Created Jobs and Saved America’s Natural Treasures through the Civilian Conservation Corps

Robert Fechner sits to FDR&rsquos right at Camp Roosevelt in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. National Archives

16. The success of the CCC was due to the leadership of Robert Fechner

When President Roosevelt appointed Robert Fechner as the Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps in April 1933 he all but ensured that the new agency would be a success. Fechner had a well-deserved reputation of having exceptional organizational and administrative skills, and his immediate work with the CCC did nothing but enhance it. Fechner was a labor organizer who approached the CCC with the understanding that unionization of the workers within the agency would detract from its mission, and stoutly opposed efforts from labor unions to infiltrate its ranks. When union workers persisted in attempting to recruit CCC members, Fechner expelled them from the camps.

Fechner initially resisted the attempts to provide educational classes within the camps (beyond those necessary for providing knowledge regarding the specific jobs) but gradually yielded to those who argued that basic education was necessary. By the time he died in 1939, classes were available in the camps corresponding to the educational needs of nearly all members, from illiterates to high school students. Upon Fechner&rsquos death, of a heart attack suffered while he was still serving as Director, Roosevelt wrote to his widow, &ldquoAs Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps he brought to the public service great administrative ability, vision, and indefatigable industry. His death is a loss to the CCC, and to the nation&rdquo.

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Civilian Conservation Corps

In response to the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps to reduce unemployment, especially among young men and to preserve the nation's natural resources. For example many CCC projects centered on forestry, flood control, prevention of soil erosion, and fighting forest fires. The impact of this New Deal program reached far beyond those specific goals however.

This 5 Lesson Depression Unit will view this difficult time through the focused lens of the Civilian Conservation Corps. (CCC) These lessons will address the larger national themes of Relief, Recovery and Reform, New Deal Race Relations, Agricultural and Environmental Crisis, and American Culture during the Depression.

The CCC operated in cooperation with and under the technical supervision of the War Department, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Labor. Other agencies such as the Office of Education and the United States Veterans Administration also played a role. Nationwide camps were established primarily for young men, but were also established for U.S. Military Veterans, (in response to the Bonus Army march on Washington in 1932) as well as &ldquoColored Camps&rdquo for African Americans. As the CCC continued to develop, one group was conspicuously absent from the ranks of most relief programs, namely women. The appreciation of the need for relief jobs for women was not very high on the &ldquoNew Dealers&rdquo list, save one, Eleanor Roosevelt. &ldquoFrom the earliest discussions of the CCC, she championed the cause of adding the estimated 200,000 homeless women to the CCC to work in tree &ldquonurseries,&rdquo perhaps shrewdly sexist, but well intentioned. She eventually met with Francis Perkins, Roosevelt&rsquos Secretary of Labor, but nothing came of it. Eventually, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) would establish relief programs for unemployed women referred to as &ldquoShe-She-She&rdquo work camps, the CCC remained all male.

It is interesting to note that these camps had significant local economic impact as well. Whether it involved the purchase of needed supplies, the enrolling of local men, or the hiring of Local Experienced Men (LEM&rsquos), primarily unemployed local woodsmen, the impact was both significant and long term. From 1933 through 1942, the CCC assigned nearly 165,000 men to 128 camps throughout Wisconsin, planting nearly three billion trees, some 265 million of them in Wisconsin.

Within four months after America entered World Was II, 90% of CCC men joined the Armed Services and continued their contribution to their country.

All necessary elements are included in this unit and are available through the Center for History Teaching and Learning Website so teachers are not required to do extra work in order to teach it. There are a variety of resources and exercises providing teachers with numerous options. This unit, though designed for a high school U.S. history class, is easily adaptable for a variety of grade levels simply by selecting the desired sources to analyze and by changing the amount of guidance for the activities.

Teaching Unit 2

Lesson Goal:

This lesson addresses the theme of Relief, Recovery and Reform. The major goal of this lesson is to introduce the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) by looking specifically at individuals who were in the camps in an effort to find out who they were, why they enrolled and what they did during their enrollment. The CCC is a classic example of government Relief in the form of a works project, more specifically hiring men to do jobs that would not get done due to the economic crisis. The CCC helped the country to Recover economically by employing millions of young men and pumping billions of dollars into state and local economies. The CCC also offered Reform in the areas of soil and water conservation, wildlife management and forestry.

Lesson Focus:

This lesson will focus initially on developing a general understanding of the specifics of the New Deal program know as the Civilian Conservation Corps. A review of the CCC PowerPoint on Camp Perkinstown will give the student an understanding of the how the1692nd was created, organized, and run. After a baseline of knowledge is established the focus will shift to the impact of the camp on the individuals who were there.

Lesson Resources:
  • In There Words, Minnesota&rsquos Greatest Generation
  • R. John Buskowiak: I Just Loved It
  • DVD player
  • PowerPoint of Camp Perkinstown (On Center for History Teaching and Learning website)
  • CHTL Good for general background on CCC camps.

This activity introduces students to the Civilian Conservation Corps through artifacts and memories shared by real veterans of the CCC, which was a work camp for young men in the 1930s. You&rsquoll have a chance to learn about the CCC, and look at some of the things that young men brought with them when they enlisted.

This site lists the CCC Camp Project Company Number, Date the Camp was Established, Nearest Railroad, Nearest Post Office, and a Location Reference for every CCC camp in Wisconsin from 1933 &ndash 1942.

Map of the Sparta District of the CCC, Sixth Corps Area

  1. Teacher introduces the topic by viewing and discussing the Camp Perkinstown PPT.
  2. Students read either the biography of John Buskowiak or Alfred Nelson and pair up to discuss what life must have been like in the CCC camps.
  3. CCC Trunk classroom activity. Ask students to imagine life in the CCC, and think back to the introductory class conversation. Direct students to the interactive CCC trunk. Students will need to click the mouse on the "Learn More" caption under the photograph of the trunk to launch the interactive flash movie. Show them that they can click on the trunk at any time during the audio to open it and explore its lid, drawer and base. Many of the items in each trunk section are also interactive. Encourage the students to listen to the audio, much of which is narration by John Buskowiak, the trunk&rsquos owner.
Letter Writing Assessment:

Students will be assigned the task of writing a letter as though they were enrolled in a CCC camp. The letter should focus on their daily activities and items seen in the CCC trunk, as well as what they like or dislike about the camps.

Content Goal:

The student will interpret the historic and personal significance of historic artifacts from the CCC trunk and relate that importance in writing.

Skill Goal:

This letter writing assignment will develop student ability to express in written form

Teacher Notes:

This assessment is designed to get the students to inspect and evaluate the specific artifacts that may be found in a CCC enrollee&rsquos trunk. Notice in particular, the style of uniforms, (different from the military) tools, documents and other items they may have had. What do these things tell us about the daily existence of these men?

Map Assessment:

Provide students with a list of the Camps around the state and have them place these camps on the map along with the type of camp that they were and when they were created. Analyzing the various roles of the camps depending on where they were located&hellip

Content Goal:

Students will develop an understanding of which types of camps were located in what areas of the state.

Skill Goal:

Students will develop map reading skills by placing the CCC camps in the correct locations on the state map provided.

Teacher Notes:

This assessment is designed to get the student to appreciate the diversity of the camps and the vastness of the undertaking. It will also help them to identify camps in their proximity and establish a local connection. This can also be used to identify the different roles of these camps as established throughout the state.

Lesson Goal:

This lesson addresses Unit Theme #2, New Deal Race Relations, and African Americans in the CCC. The major goal of this lesson is to analyze the role FDR and CCC played in the struggle for equal rights and opportunities for African Americans. The Civilian Conservation Corps provided more than a quarter of a million young black men with jobs and was consequently another arena in which the black community waged the struggle for greater equality.

Lesson Focus:

This lesson explores that struggle and its implications for the New Deal's impact on American society it examines a series of documents written by New Deal officials, including the President that concerned black CCC workers. It also considers documents that present the CCC from the perspective of black participants and observers. Drawing on other background readings and the diversity of views that these documents reflect, students will analyze the impact of this New Deal program on race relations in America and assess the role played by the New Deal in changing them. While Wisconsin had no &ldquoColored&rdquo camps, Illinois, with a larger African American population had 11 &ldquoColored&rdquo CCC camps that were directed by white officers.

Lesson Resources:

Web access and computer lab access or Computer Projector
or hard copies of the following documents.

In the early years of the CCC some camps were integrated, but prompted by local complaints and the views of the US Army and CCC administrators, integrated CCC camps were disbanded in July, 1935, when CCC Director Robert Fechner issued a directive ordering the "complete segregation of colored and white enrollees." While the law establishing the CCC contained a clause outlawing discrimination based upon race the CCC held that "segregation is not discrimination" Although the CCC's Jim Crow policy prompted complaints from black and white civil rights activists, segregation remained the rule throughout the life of the CCC.

The following documents will be used in the class activity:

1. Civilian Conservation Corps Photographs of African American Enrollees
The photographs were digitally scanned from the records of the Civilian Conservation Corps, in the National Archives. The captions are those that accompanied the original photographs.

2. CCC Youth Refuses to Fan Flies Off Officer Is Fired
The story is an interesting one, illustrating as it does some of the difficulties confronting young Negroes in the forestry service officered largely by white Southerners, as well as the Willingness of the administration to do justice when pressed for action.

3. A Negro in the CCC
The author is a New Yorker and gives here a first hand picture of CCC life.

4. Harold Ickes to Robert Fechner, 20 September 1935
Letter from the Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes to Fechner, head of CCC.

5. Robert Fechner to Thomas L. Griffith, 21 September 1935
Letter from Fechner to Mr. Thomas L. Griffith, Jr. President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

6. FDR to Robert Fechner, 27 September 1935
Describes FDR&rsquos attitude toward integration in the CCC.

7. Robert Fechner to Robert J. Buckley, 4 June 1936
Letter to two Senators defending the CCC and its racial policies.

Official report of the CCC from the Government Printing Office.


In Class: The teacher should lead the students in a discussion of these documents. The discussion can start with separate consideration of each document and the accompanying questions, or it can consider all documents together.

In either case, the teacher should encourage students to evaluate not only the role of the federal government in general, but also the role of different government officials and thus the different approaches that existed within the Roosevelt Administration. The teacher should also encourage students to discuss other questions or issues that the documents may raise. Examples include:

  • To what extent can the federal government as a whole be held responsible for the racist behavior and attitudes of locally hired government officials?
  • How should a federal policy be implemented when federal officials differ in their understanding of that policy especially when applied to as in this case racial integration?
  • Do you think that some blacks employed by the CCC preferred to work in segregated units? Why? Why not?

Content Goal:
This lesson will provide students with and in-depth look at the racism that existed at all levels of American society in the 1930&rsquos by focusing on the segregation found within the CCC.

Skills Goal:
Students will work on improving their written communication skills within this exercise.

Students will be assigned the following essay question:
To what extent did the treatment of African Americans in the CCC represent a growing commitment on the part of the federal government to combat racial discrimination and empower the black community?

Teacher Notes:

It is vitally important to address these questions from both the context of the day, and comparing that context with today&rsquos reality. What was the reality of the larger society toward racial integration during the 1930&rsquos?? Jim Crow was still alive and well! What about the military? That wouldn&rsquot be integrated until post- WWII.

Lesson Goals:

This lesson will address Unit Theme #3, Agricultural and Environmental Crisis.
This lesson will analyze the attempts made by the CCC and the newly created Soil Conservation Service (SCS) to battle against nature to prevent wind and water erosion as well as a restoration and preservation of the environment.

Lesson Focus:

Wisconsin led the way in establishing a new vision for soil conservation during the Depression. The Coon Valley project, characterized by the narrow, steep valleys of southwestern Wisconsin's Driftless area, illustrated how the CCC broadened the scope of soil conservation activities. An analysis of what they did and how they did it will help students to understand the long term impact the soil conservation policies still impact the region today. A comparative analysis can be made with the multitude of information on the more widely studied Dust Bowl. The following websites may be useful for this purpose.

Teacher Resources:

Early History of the CCC and Soil Erosion Service

In September of 1933, a soil scientist in the Bureau of Chemistry and Soils Hugh Hammond Bennett was selected to direct a new agency -- the Soil Erosion Service (SES) in the Department of the Interior. Bennett had been supervising a group of soil conservation experiment stations in soil erosion problem areas. He proposed to establish watershed-based demonstration projects near the research stations where the new agency could utilize the information from the stations to demonstrate the practicability of using soil and water conservation methods. He knew that the work of CCC enrollees could be invaluable in convincing the cash-strapped farmers during the Depression to try new methods that required some labor to install. The CCC allotted 22 camps, far fewer than had been requested, to the Soil Erosion Service for the third camp period, April 1-September 30, 1934, and then extended them for the fourth enrollment period October 1, 1934 &ndash March 31, 1935. Another 17 camps were assigned, making a total of 51 camps for the fourth period. Practically all of these camps were located on the demonstration project work areas. As the drought deepened, another 18 camps were assigned to SES specifically for drought relief work.

Soil Conservation Service

The successful demonstration during the period September 1933 to April 1935 increased the support for a national soil conservation policy and program. When the act of April 27, 1935, created the Soil Conservation Service in the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Congress provided more funds and the new Service expanded its operations nationwide. In fiscal year 1937, SCS supervised the work of an average 70,000 enrollees occupying 440 camps. Ninety percent of the camps worked not on a watershed-based demonstration project but in a 25,000 acre work area.

As local communities began organizing soil conservation districts and signing cooperative agreements with USDA in 1937, SCS began supplying a CCC camp to further each district's conservation program. During the life of CCC, SCS supervised the work of more than 800 of the 4,500 camps. African-American enrollees worked in more than 100 of those camps.

Wisconsin&rsquos Soil Conservation Service (SCS) Camps

Wisconsin&rsquos Soil Conservation Service Camps were located in the following counties&hellipVernon WI-SCS-1 Crawford WI-SCS-2 Pierce WI-SCS-3 Lafayette WI-SCS-4 Pepin WI-SCS-5 Vernon WI-SCS-6 La Crosse WI-SCS-7 Trempealeau WI-SCS-8 Sauk WI-SCS-9 Grant WI-SCS-10 Dane WI-SCS-11 Richland WI-SCS-12 Jackson WI-SCS-13 Trempealeau WI-SCS-14 Buffalo WI-SCS-15 Grant WI-SCS-16 La Crosse WI-SCS-17 Dunn WI-SCS-18 Buffalo WI-SCS-19 Vernon WI-SCS-20 Iowa WI-SCS-21 Trempealeau WI-SCS-22 Jackson WI-SCS-23

Map of SCS &ndash CCC Camps

The Soil Conservation Service became part of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, in 440 camps nationwide.

Accomplishments of the SCS &ndash CCC 1934-1941

This website provides s summary of major work accomplishments of SCS-CCC Program 1934-1941.

The Coon Valley project, characterized by the narrow, steep valleys of southwestern Wisconsin's Drift-less area, illustrated how Bennett and the CCC broadened the scope of soil conservation activities.

The Civilian Conservation Corps: Demonstrating the Value of Soil Conservation

Coon Valley Leads the Way!!
In May 1934, Fred Morrell, in charge of CCC work for the Forest Service, visited Coon Valley, Wisconsin, which was destined to become one of the most successful demonstration projects. There he found Ray Davis, director of the project, ready to use the "camps to further any and all parts of their program. to demonstrate proper farm management to control sheet erosion." What Bennett and Davis had in mind for Coon Valley and other areas went far beyond simply plugging gullies, planting trees, and building terrace outlets.

The Coon Valley project, characterized by the narrow, steep valleys of southwestern Wisconsin's Drift-less area, illustrated how Bennett and the CCC broadened the scope of soil conservation activities. Through the winter of 1933-1934, erosion specialists on Davis' staff contacted farmers to arrange five-year cooperative agreements. Many of the agreements obligated SES to supply CCC labor as well as fertilizer, lime, and seed. Farmers agreed to follow recommendations for strip-cropping, crop rotations, rearrangement of fields, and conversion of steep cropland to pasture or woodland. Alfalfa was a major element in the strip-cropping. Farmers were interested in alfalfa, but the cost of seed, fertilizer, and lime to establish plantings had been a problem during the Depression (13).

Another key erosion-reducing strategy was increasing the soil's water-absorbing capacity by lengthening the crop rotation and keeping the hay in strip-cropping in place longer. A typical three-year rotation had been corn, small grain, then hay (timothy and red clover). Conservationists advised farmers to follow a four- to six-year rotation of corn, small grain, and hay (alfalfa mixed with clover or timothy) for two to four years.

Grazing of woodlands had contributed to increased cropland erosion. Trampling soil and stripping groundcover reduced the forest's capacity to hold rainfall and increased erosion on fields down-slope. Moreover, grazing slowed the growth of trees while providing little feed for cows. Most of the cooperative agreements provided that the woodlands would not be grazed if CCC crews fenced them off and planted seedlings where needed.

SES also tried to control gullying, especially when gullies hindered farming operations.

Stream-bank erosion presented another problem. While the conservation measures on cropland would ultimately reduce sediment flowing into Coon Creek, stream-bank erosion was still a problem. The young CCC'ers built wing dams, laid willow matting, and planted willows.

In the area of wildlife enhancement, workers established some feeding stations to carry birds through winter. But generally the schemes to increase wildlife populations were of a more enduring nature. Gullies and out-of-the-way places that could not be farmed conveniently served as prime wildlife planting areas. Some farmers agreed to plant hedges for wildlife that also served as permanent guides to contour strip-cropping. Insofar as possible, trees selected for reforested areas were also ones that provided good wildlife habitat (13).

Between the fall of 1933 and June 1935, 418 of the valley's 800 farmers signed cooperative agreements. Aerial photo-graphs revealed that long after the demonstration project closed, additional farmers began strip-cropping. From Coon Valley, this practice spread during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s into adjacent valleys of the Drift-less area (15). To James G. Lindley, head of CCC operations for Bennett, this dissemination was the "sincerest form of flattery."

In retrospect, the material accomplishments of CCC activities, while important, seem less important than the educational experience for conservation. The work of the CCC crews was valuable to Bennett in proving the validity of his ideas about the benefits of concentrated conservation treatment of an entire watershed. The large-scale approach also permitted experimentation. Few of the conservationists' techniques were new, but the process of fitting them together was. The work led to the refinement and improvement of conservation measures still used today.

This experience, among both SCS staff and the enrollees, provided a trained, technical core of workers for SCS for years to come. Former enrollees joined the staff and during the early years, CCC funds provided for nearly half of the agency's workforce. In addition to contributing to the passage of the Soil Conservation Act of 1935, the CCC also was instrumental in helping the soil conservation district movement off to a healthy start. When the states began enacting soil conservation district laws in 1937, it came as no surprise to the SCS field force that the first districts were organized near CCC camp work areas.

CCC's real contribution, however, lay in proving the feasibility of conservation. The positive public attitude associated with CCC work, including soil conservation, helped to create an atmosphere in which soil conservation was regarded, at least in part, as a public responsibility.

Lesson Resources:

Web access and computer lab access or Computer Projector
or hard copies of the following documents.

YouTube Clips:

President Visits Foresters at CCC Camp 1933/08/14 (1933)
FDR dines with enrollees at Mountain Retreat.

Hugh Hammond Bennett Quotes

Hugh Hammond Bennett led the soil conservation movement in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, urged the nation to address the "national menace" of soil erosion, and created a new federal agency and served as its first chief &mdash the Soil Conservation Service, now the Natural Resources Conservation Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He is considered today to be the father of soil conservation.


In Class: The teacher should lead the students in a discussion of these topics beginning with viewing the YouTube clips or other media showing the impact of the Dust Bowl and the need for environmental protection and agricultural change.

A review of the early history of the CCC and its connection to conservation and the eventual development of the SCS is important to understanding the environmental movement in Wisconsin.

After showing the map of SCS-CCC camps in Wisconsin, a discussion should follow as to the location of these camps in the &ldquoDriftless&rdquo region of Wisconsin and why this would be an extremely sensitive environmental area and in need of soil conservation.

The Upper Midwest "Driftless Zone" (Also known as "Driftless Area" or "Un-glaciated Area") (Map)

A review of the accomplishments of the SCS-CCC camps will highlight the impact of this program on the nation&rsquos environment. See teacher resources above.


Students will develop a deeper understanding of the work of one of the most influential leaders in the conservation movement in the 1930&rsquos.

Student analysis of quotes and subsequent written interpretations of those quotes will help to improve both analytical and written skills.

Students will be given a copy of Hugh Hammond Bennet Quotes (see teacher resources) from which they are to select 3 of these quotes to analyze in paragraph format. This analysis is to include:

  • Date of the Quote?
  • Title of the Speech?
  • For what audience was the speech written?
  • What was the Bennet&rsquos goal in using this quote?
  • How did this quote reflect the larger conservation picture?

Teacher Notes:
It is important that the teacher emphasize that the Dust Bowl, while an extremely important part of the environmental crisis facing the country was not the only one. The problems facing the &ldquoCut-Over&rdquo region of Northern Wisconsin, namely forest fires, and the erosion problems of the &ldquoDriftless&rdquo region of South Western Wisconsin posed a much more immediate threat to the environment here.

Lesson Goal:

This lesson will address the fourth Unit Theme American Culture During the Depression. Through the analysis of CCC newspapers and the creation of student generated papers insight will be gained as to the topics of interest to American culture during the Depression through the eyes of these young men in the CCC Camps.

Lesson Focus:

This lesson will focus on American culture as it was seen through the writers of the CCC camp newspapers. By analyzing these newspaper documents from around the country the students will get a first hand look into the issues of importance to the men of the CCC not only locally, but nationally as well. They will also then be able to compare and contrast those &ldquocultural themes&rdquo to those of today.

Teacher Resources:

Camp newspapers offered another form of entertainment. Among the leisure activities pursued by some men was the publication of camp newspapers. Sometimes undertaken by a Journalism class, the camp newspaper became an outlet for &ldquojournalistic&rdquo urges as well as a cheap and relatively clean form of camp entertainment. The officially sanctioned newspaper of the CCC was entitled &ldquoHappy Days.&rdquo &ldquoThough a private venture, the paper was officially authorized and effectively served as the semi-official voice of the CCC. It was widely circulated in all the camps. It was launched on May 20, 1933, when Volume 1, Number 1 appeared with twelve pages in a five-column printed format, about a month following the creation of the CCC.&rdquo2 Camp Perkinstown had its own &ldquorag&rdquo entitled &ldquoThe Chequamegon Forester.&rdquo This newspaper appears pretty typical of the CCC papers I&rsquove seen. The front page is devoted to &ldquoreal&rdquo camp news, and in this first volume the new Company Commander is introduced. Other sections include an editorial on sportsmanship, Words of Wisdom, Infamous Quotes from camp officials, Athletic results and reports (which made up the largest section), and an introspective article entitled &rdquoHow Can I Earn My Living? &ldquoWhat Shall I Be? What Is There To Be? 3 The camp newspapers have given use a unique look at camp life, one writt"

Lesson 1: My Days in the Civilian Conservation Corps
  • In Their Words, Minnesota&rsquos Greatest Generation
  • The Civilian Conservation Corps Experience
  • Camp Perkinstown PowerPoint

This PPT provides general information about Camp Perkinstown, Company 1692 Wisconsin CCC Camp

  • R. John Buskowiak: I Just Loved It
  • Minnesotan veterans of the CCC
  • Map of the Sparta District of the CCC, Sixth Corps Area - Lesson URL
Lesson 2: African-Americans and the CCC

Teacher Resources and Websites:

    • The New Deal Network
    • African Americans in the CCC
    • This lesson is a modified version of the lesson linked here

    The following documents will be used in the class activity:

    How FDR Created Jobs and Saved America’s Natural Treasures through the Civilian Conservation Corps

    In 1933, as part of the New Deal instituted by the Roosevelt Administration to help lift the nation out of the Great Depression, a public works agency called the Civilian Conservation Corps was created. Like all of FDR&rsquos initiatives, it quickly became known by its initials, the CCC. It was created to provide work for young men and gave them a monthly stipend, housing, clothing, and food. In return the CCC completed improvement projects in America&rsquos publicly owned lands, many of which remain visible and valuable more than eight decades later. It was widely popular in its day and remains one of the most successful government programs for the conservation of natural resources ever created.

    A CCC Camp in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia circa 1935. Virginia State Parks

    The CCC was a temporary program, funded annually by Congress out of money allotted for emergency programs. By 1942, the need to provide funding for young men of the ages accepted by the CCC was supplanted by the expanding Selective Service System and the CCC was disbanded that year. In the nine years the program operated, it planted approximately 3 billion trees in America&rsquos public lands and improved rural roads, national, state, and community parks, built hiking trails, constructed campgrounds and park facilities, and left a lasting mark on America&rsquos recreational and rural lands. It operated separate programs for both veterans of the World War and Native Americans affected by the Great Depression. Here is its story.

    Roosevelt&rsquos vision for the Civilian Conservation Corps was based on a similar program he initiated in New York as its governor. Wikimedia

    1. The CCC was based on a similar program which had been used in New York State

    On March 21, 1933, after just over two weeks in office, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a proposal to Congress, asking for the creation of an agency modeled on a similar, though smaller, scale as one he had started when governor of New York. Roosevelt suggested that the new agency would operate while &ldquoconfining itself to forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, flood control, and similar projects&rdquo. Roosevelt informed Congress that the work of his new agency was of &ldquodefinite, practical value, not only through the prevention of great present financial loss but also as a means of creating future national wealth&rdquo. At the same time, it would provide work for unemployed and unemployable young men.

    Ten days later, Congress passed the Emergency Conservation Work Act (ECW) by a voice vote, providing the president with the funds necessary to implement his vision. FDR issued Executive Order 6101 in the first week of April, creating the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC was operated by four government agencies. The Labor Department hired the men to staff it. The War Department was responsible for the operation of the work camps to be built to house the men. The Departments of Agriculture and the Interior were assigned to create the projects and supervise their completion. On April 17, less than one month after FDR first proposed the organization, the first camp opened near Luray, Virginia, in the George Washington National Forest. It was named Camp Roosevelt.

    During the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, droughts in combination with farming practices that encouraged erosion created homelessness and environmental devastation. Because they were unable to grow and harvest crops, farming families were forced to leave their homes, only to find few job prospects during the Great Depression. The severe economic and environmental consequences of erosion made the need for conservation in the 1930s even more important.

    Franklin Roosevelt previously worked on reforestation programs on a small scale at his family’s estate in Hyde Park, New York and as governor of New York. In this role, he supported reforestation and giving unemployed men temporary jobs to plant trees and work on conservation programs for the state. When Roosevelt accepted the Democratic nomination for president, he proclaimed: “We know that a very hopeful and immediate means of relief, both for the unemployed and for agriculture, will come from a wide plan of the converting of many millions of acres of marginal and unused land into timber land through reforestation.”

    Similar programs using unemployed men for work planting trees and other conservation projects took place in other states in the early 1930s. In the spring of 1933, Roosevelt requested that the Departments of War, the Interior, Agriculture, and Labor join forces to develop a plan for unemployment relief through the creation of a civilian conservation corps, which would work on conservation projects. This initiative would coordinate programs on a national level that had previously operated within individual states.

    The Start of a New Work Program

    The crash of the stock market and economic collapse in 1929 led to a decade of impoverishment, unemployment, and despair across the country. By 1933, a year into Roosevelt’s presidency, 60 percent of the population was considered poor by government standards and over 15 million Americans were unemployed. Unemployment rates among youth was particularly high, and so to assist young, unmarried men, and in due time their families, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was born.

    The CCC was created to provide young men with on-the-job training, while providing them with a means of earning a steady income. In his history of the CCC and the parks, John Salmond describes the situation thus: “…Roosevelt, brought together two wasted resources, the young men and the land, in an attempt to save both.” In exchange for their work, each corps member was paid $30 a month and received food, shelter, and clothing.

    How FDR Created Jobs and Saved America’s Natural Treasures through the Civilian Conservation Corps

    CCC projects such as preparing grades for roads ended when Congress ended its funding in 1942. National Archives

    18. Congress ceased funding the CCC in 1942

    Back in the days when the Congress of the United States passed budgets which followed the fiscal year, expiring on June 30, the 77 th Congress decided the CCC was redundant, and funding for its operations ended on that date in 1942. Many of the camps were absorbed by the War and Navy Departments, others by state organizations, and still others were simply abandoned. Congress continued to fund the liquidation of the CCC (resolving and archiving records, establishing the status of incomplete projects, etc.) until 1948, when the process was declared complete. By then FDR was dead and Harry Truman expressed little interest in renewing the agency in peacetime.

    Some former CCC camps were expanded during World War II to serve as internment camps for German, Italian, and Japanese nationals who were in the United States when the war began. Others were used to house conscientious objectors, who performed public service projects similar to those of the CCC but on a much smaller scale throughout the war. Other camps were expanded even further as housing facilities for prisoners of war as they began to arrive in the United States, beginning with Germans and Italians captured in North Africa in 1942 (most of the interned Japanese Americans along the west coast were held in camps built by the army).

    CCC Brief History

    CCC enrollees throughout the country were credited with renewing the nation's decimated forests by planting an estimated three billion trees between 1933 and 1942. Today the legacy of the CCC is continued through the effort of thousands of young people who work on the same ground first restored by the men of the CCC.

    The 1932 Presidential election was more a desperate cry for help than it was an election. Accepting the Presidential nomination on July 1, 1932, New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt planned to fight against soil erosion and declining timber resources by utilizing unemployed young men from large urban areas.

    In what would later be called “The Hundred Days,” President Roosevelt revitalized the faith of the nation by setting into motion a “New Deal” for America. One of these New Deal programs was the Emergency Conservation Work (EWC) Act, more commonly known as the Civilian Conservation Corps. With this action, he brought together two wasted resources: young men and land.

    The President wasted no time. He called the 73rd Congress into Emergency Session on March 9, 1933, to hear and authorize the program. He proposed to recruit thousands of unemployed young men, enroll them in a peacetime army, and send them into battle against destruction and erosion of our natural resources. Before the CCC ended, over three million young men engaged in a massive salvage operation described as the most popular experiment of the New Deal.

    The strongest reaction to the proposed CCC program came from organized labor. Union leaders feared a loss of jobs that could be filled with union members. Also, they were alarmed at the involvement of the Army and believed this might lead to regimentation of labor.

    Emergency Conservation Work legislation passed on March 31, 1933

    President Roosevelt promised if granted emergency powers he would have 250,000 men in camps by the end of July, 1933. The speed with which the plan moved through proposal, authorization, implementation and operation was a miracle of cooperation among all branches and agencies of the federal government. It was a mobilization of men, material and transportation on a scale never before known in time of peace. From FDR’s inauguration on March 4, 1933, to the induction of the first enrollee on April 7, only 37 days had elapsed.

    Senate Bill S. 598 was introduced on March 27, passed both houses of Congress and was on the President’s desk to be signed on March 31, 1933

    Administration of the CCC unprecedented

    The administration of the CCC was unprecedented. Executive Order 6101 dated April 5, 1933, authorized the program, appointed Robert Fechner as director and established an Advisory Council. Representatives of the Secretaries of War, Labor, Agriculture and Interior served on the Council for the duration of the program.

    All four agencies performed minor miracles in coordination with the national Director of ECW, Robert Fechner, a union vice-president, personally picked and appointed by FDR. There was no book of rules. There were none. Never before had there been an organization like the CCC. It was an experiment in top level management designed to prevent red tape from strangling the newborn effort. Fechner, and later James J. McEntee, would have their differences with the Council, but unquestionably, each contributed greatly to the success of the CCC.

    Logistics was an immediate problem. The bulk of young unemployed youth was concentrated in the East while most of the work projects were in the West. The Army was the only department capable of merging the two and they quickly developed new plans to meet the challenge of managing this peacetime mission. The Army mobilized the nation’s transportation system, and moved thousands of enrollees from induction centers to working camps. It used regular and reserve officers, together with regulars of the Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy to temporarily command companies.

    The Army was not the only organization to evoke extraordinary efforts to meet the demands of this emergency. The Departments of Agriculture and Interior were responsible for planning and organizing work to be performed in every state of the union. The Department of Labor was responsible for the selection and enrollment through state and local relief offices.

    The program had great public support

    T he program had great public support. Young men flocked to enroll. A poll of Republicans supported the program by 67 percent, and 95 percent of Californians approved. Colonel McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, and an adversary of Roosevelt, gave the CCC his support. Even the socialist Soviet Union praised the program. A Chicago judge thought the CCC was largely responsible for a 55 percent reduction in the crime statistics.

    With a firm foundation by April, 1934, the Corps faced the beginning of its second year with near universal approval and praise of the country. This young, inexperienced $30-a-month labor battalion had met and exceeded all expectations. The impact of mandatory monthly $25 allotment checks to families boosted the economy across the nation. Allotments were making life a little easier for the people at home. In communities close to the camps, local purchases averaging approximately $5,000 monthly staved off failure of many small businesses. The man on the radio could, for a change, say, “There’s good news tonight.”

    News from the camps was welcome and good. The enrollees were working hard, eating heartily and gaining weight, while they improved millions of acres of federal, state and some private land. New roads were built, telephone lines strung and the first of millions of trees were planted. Glowing reports of the accomplishments of the Corps were printed in major newspapers, including some that had bitterly opposed other phases of the New Deal. Positive response prompted the President to announce his intention to extend the Corps for at least another year.

    In 1935 the CCC began the best years of its life

    In 1935, the Civilian Conservation Corps began the best years of its life. The early days of drafty tents, poor fitting uniforms and hazardous operations were gone. Individual congressmen and senators were quick to realize the importance of the camps to their constituencies and political futures. Letters, telegrams, and messages soon flooded the Director’s office most of them demanding the building of new camps in their states. Eventually there would be camps in all 48 states and in Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. By the end of 1935, there were over 2,650 camps operating in all states, California had more than 150. Delaware had three. CCC enrollees were performing more than 100 kinds of work.

    Enrollees numbering 505,782 occupied these camps. Other categories, such as officers, supervisors, education advisors and administrators swelled the total to more than 600,000 persons.

    Program modifications ensure success

    The Emergency Conservation Work Act made no mention of either education or training. They were not officially introduced until 1937 by the Act that formally created a Civilian Conservation Corps. Late in 1933, Clarence S. Marsh was appointed the first Director of Education based on a number of recommendations. By 1934, a formal program had begun. Varying opinions on educational methodology caused controversy and criticism throughout its existence. Even Fechner was never too enthusiastic about the program and suspected that at camp level it might interfere with the work program. This did not materialize and only in the latter years of the CCC was training authorized during normal working hours.

    Ultimately, the quality of the educational program was determined by the initiative and qualifications of the Camp Education Advisor (CEA). Also, the attitude and cooperation of the Camp Commanders was important. Both in efficiency and results the education programs varied considerably from camp to camp. However, throughout the Corps, more than 40,000 illiterate young men were taught to read and write. Education was a volunteer activity undertaken during non-working hours. The benefits received from the education program were directly related to the amount of effort whether it be a high school diploma, learning to type, or wood carving.

    Although relief of unemployed youth had been the original objective of the ECW, two important modifications became necessary early in 1933. The first extended enlistment coverage to about 14,000 American Indians whose economic conditions were deplorable and had been largely ignored. Before the CCC was terminated, more than 80,000 Native Americans were paid to help reclaim a land that had once been their exclusive domain.

    The second modification authorized the enrollment of about 25,000 locally employed men (LEM). Their experience and special skills were vital to train and protect the unskilled enrollees as they transitioned from city dwellers to expert handlers of axes and shovels. Demands of nearby communities that their own unemployed be eligible for hire were also satisfied. Some complaints of “political patronage” emerged, but no serious scandals ever developed.

    The appearance of a second Bonus Army in Washington, DC in May, 1933, brought about another unplanned modification when the President issued Executive Order 6129, dated May 11, 1933, authorizing the immediate enrollment of about 25,000 veterans of the Spanish American War and World War I, with no age or marital restrictions. These men were first housed in separate camps and performed duties in conservation suited to their age and physical condition. While not exactly what the veterans had in mind when they marched on Washington, it was an offer that most accepted. A total of nearly 250,000 got a belated opportunity to rebuild lives disrupted by earlier service to their country.

    The years 1935-36 witnessed a peak in the size and popularity of the Corps. However, this time period also revealed the first major attempt to change a system which had proven to be workable and successful since early 1933. Before this challenge developed, Congress authorized, funded and extended the existence of the CCC until March, 1935, with a new target of 600,000 enrollees. This action signified the satisfaction of the “grass roots” and their congressional representatives with the work of the CCC.

    1935 - Administrative Changes Influence Enrollment

    At first, it appeared there would be no problem in reaching the 600,000 man target. However, a new name had appeared among Roosevelt’s advisors. Harry Hopkins established new and uncoordinated ground rules for the selection of enrollees. Hopkins’ procedures were based on relief rolls and effectively ruined the quota system in use by all the states. Fechner protested violently, and the developing hassle slowed down recruiting efforts and created much confusion. By September, 1935, there were only about 500,000 men located in 2,600 camps. Never again, during the remainder of the life of the Corps would those numbers be reached.

    While Fechner was still struggling with the changes required by the failure to meet the 600,000 strength figure, he was struck by another change in strategy that spelled disaster. Roosevelt quietly informed him to expect a drastic reduction in the number of camps and enrollees in an effort to balance the federal budget in an election year. Roosevelt, a master politician, was aware that a major cut in government spending would be an important selling point in this campaign for re-election. However, in 1936 there were other factors that Roosevelt either ignored or had underestimated. Election year or not, Roosevelt’s proposed budget reform invited trouble.

    As soon as the proposed reduction was announced the flood gates burst, and Congress was besieged with protests. The Corps was at the height of it popularity. No one wanted camps closed. Republicans and Democrats alike frantically sought a reversal of Roosevelt’s policy. The President was adamant and insisted that the plan would begin in January, 1936. By June, he wanted approximately 300,000 men in about 1,400 camps. Coincidentally a few camps previously scheduled to close did so about this time. This action brought another deluge of mail. House Democrats sparked an open revolt and Congress was determined to take joint action to maintain the Corps at its current strength. Roosevelt and his advisors finally recognized the threat to their own legislative program and wisely called a retreat. He advised Fechner that the proposal had been dropped and that all existing camps and personnel would remain. Roosevelt’s own political party had refused to let him economize in an election year at the expense of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

    Despite a few problems, the year 1936 was a success for the CCC. The projects reached high levels and were faithfully recorded and reported. This proud record increased each year and by 1942 all states could boast of permanent projects attributed to the CCC.

    Corps accomplishments

    Some of the specific accomplishments of the Corps included 3,470 fire towers erected, 97,000 miles of fire roads built, 4,235,000 man-days devoted to fighting fires, and more than three billion trees planted. Five hundred camps were under the direction of the Soil Conservation Service, performing erosion control. Erosion was ultimately arrested on more than twenty million acres. The CCC made outstanding contributions in the development of recreational facilities in national, state, county and metropolitan parks.

    There were 7,153,000 enrollee man-days expended on other related conservation activities. These included protection of range for the Grazing Service, protecting the natural habitats of wildlife, stream improvement, restocking of fish and building small dams for water conservation. Eighty-three camps in 15 western states were assigned 45 projects of this nature.

    Drainage was another important phase of land conservation and management. There were 84,400,000 acres of good agriculture land dependent on man-made drainage systems. This is an area equal to the combined states of Ohio, Indiana and Iowa. Forty-six camps were assigned to this work under the direction of the U.S. Bureau of Agriculture Engineering. Native American enrollees did much to this work.

    Residents of southern Indiana will never forget the emergency work of the CCC during the flooding of the Ohio River in 1937. The combined strength of camps in the area saved countless lives and much property in danger of being swept away. They contributed 1,240,000 man-days of emergency work in floods of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. Other disasters in which the CCC participated were the floods of Vermont and New York in 1937 and the New England hurricane of 1938. In Utah from 1936-37, 1,000,000 sheep were stranded in blizzards and were in danger of starvation. CCC enrollees braved the drifts and saved the flocks.

    Few records were kept of the sociological impact of the 1930s on the nation’s young men. Many had never been beyond the borders of their state, and others had never left home. Yet, many would never return. They would choose to remain in towns and villages near their camps. They married, reared families and put down new roots, such as others had done during other migratory movements in America. Those who did return, many with brides, came back as successful products of an experiment in living that had renewed and restored self confidence in themselves and in their country.

    The Civilian Conservation Corps approached maturity in 1937. Hundreds of enrollees had passed through the system and returned home to boast of their experiences. Hundreds more demonstrated their satisfaction by extending their enlistments. Life in the camps had settled down to a routine of working everyday except Sunday. After the evening meal, camps came to life as men relaxed and had fun. One building in every camp was a combined dayroom, recreation center and canteen, or PX. In this building, many friendships were fostered amongst the noise of ping-pong, poker, innumerable bottles of “coke”, and occasional beers, many lasting friendships were fostered.

    Congress never establishes the CCC as a permanent agency

    There were many valid reasons why Congress chose not to establish the Corps as a permanent agency. However, disenchantment and failure to recognize the success of the organization was never a topic of debate. To the contrary, in a vote of confidence, Congress extended its life as an independently funded agency for an additional two years. Speculation suggests, Congress still regarded the CCC as a temporary relief organization with an uncertain future, rather than as a bold, progressive solution to the continuing problem of our vanishing national resources.

    Since Fechner’s appointment during the hectic days of 1933, he had been able to control the operation of the CCC with relatively minor challenges to his authority. However, 1939 would bring about a major challenge at the time when he was struggling with internal problems brought about by changing conditions both in the United States and Europe. The European military controversy and its pending negative affect on England and France had already begun to impact the U.S. economy. In the effort to provide them with supplies to combat invasion, jobs were created and applications for the CCC declined. Again, it was a sudden change in administration policy that generated the most heat for Fechner and the Civilian Conservation Corps.

    One of Roosevelt's long range plans was the reorganization of the administrative functions of some federal agencies. Congress had been reluctant to approve such a move until early in 1939. They finally authorized a modified proposal after much debate. The Federal Security Agency (FSA) was created to consolidate several offices, services and boards under one Director. The CCC lost its status as an independent organization and was brought into the new organization. Fechner was furious when he learned the Director of FSA would have authority over him. Appeals to the President were futile as FDR believed the consolidation was important. In an angry protest, Fechner submitted his resignation, but later withdrew it. Some felt that withdrawing his resignation was a mistake for it was common knowledge that Fechner was in poor health. Early in December, he had a massive heart attack and died a few weeks later on New Year’s Eve.

    Fechner was the CCC. His honest, day by day attention to all facets of the program sustained high levels of accomplishment and shaped an impressive public image of the CCC. He was a common man, neither impressed nor intimidated by his contemporaries in Washington. Fechner was considered deficient and lacking vision in some areas but his dedication was second to none. His lengthy and detailed progress reports to FDR were valuable information. He was a good and faithful servant who was spared from witnessing the end of the CCC program.

    1940 - CCC begins a year that signals change

    In 1940 the Civilian Conservation Corps began a year of change. The death of Fechner was a severe blow and the emerging war in Europe was the greatest concern to Roosevelt and Congress. John J. McEntee was appointed by the Congress to be Director. He was as knowledgeable as Fechner as he had been the assistant since the beginning. McEntee was an entirely different personality without the appeasing talents of his predecessor, and none of his patience. Harold Ickes, another short-tempered individual, strongly opposed his appointment. This increased the friction between the Department of Interior and Director’s office and was typical of the problems McEntee inherited. He served in a different, uncertain atmosphere and received little praise for his efforts.

    The Corps itself continued to be popular. Another election year attempt by the President to reduce its strength precipitated a reaction reminiscent of the congressional revolt of 1936. Despite a well-meaning attempt at economy, Congress, with an eye to the folks back home, added $50 million to the CCC’s 1940-41 appropriation. Also, the Corps remained at the current strength of about 300,000 enrollees, Congress would never again be as generous. Other problems were developing within the Congress related to the defense of the country. Inevitably, the priority and prestige of the CCC suffered with each crisis. Those congressmen who had opposed FDR’s “New Deal” gained strength some calling for termination of the Corps.

    By late summer, 1941, it was obvious the Corps was in serious trouble. Lack of applicants, desertion and the number of enrollees leaving for jobs had reduced the Corps to fewer than 200,000 men in about 900 camps. There were also disturbing signs that public opinion was slowly changing. Major newspapers that had long defended and supported the Corps, were now questioning the necessity of retaining the CCC when unemployment had practically disappeared. Most agreed there was still work to be done, but they insisted defense came first.

    The bombing of Pearl Harbor had shaken the country to its very core. It soon became obvious that, in a nation dedicated to war, any federal project not directly associated with the war effort was not a priority. The joint committee of Congress authorized by the 1941-42 appropriations bill was investigating all federal agencies to determine which ones, if any, were essential to the war effort. The CCC was no exception and came under review late in 1941. It was not a surprise that the committee recommended the Civilian Conservation Corps be abolished by July 1, 1942.

    The CCC lived on for a few more months, but the end was inevitable. Technically, the Corps was never abolished. In June 1942 by a narrow vote of 158 to 151, the House of Representatives curtailed funding. The Senate reached a tie vote twice. Finally, Vice-President Harry Wallace broke the tie voting to fund the CCC. It was a valiant effort, but it didn’t work. The Senate-House committee compromise finished it with the Senate concurring in return for a House action authorizing $8 million to liquidate the agency. The full Senate confirmed the action by voice vote and the Civilian Conservation Corps moved into the pages of history.

    Roots of the conservation corps concept

    In 1850, the Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle wrote that unemployed men should be organized into regiments to drain bogs and work in wilderness areas for the betterment of society. In 1910, Harvard philosopher, William James published an essay: “The Moral Equivalent of War” where he proposed conscription of youth “enlisted against nature”.

    In 1915, conservationist George H. Maxwell proposed that young men be enrolled into a national conservation corps. Their duties would include forest and plains conservation work, to fight forest fires, flood control, and the reclamation of swamp and desert lands.

    In 1928, Franklin Roosevelt was elected Governor of New York and in 1930 the New York legislature passed a law to purchase abandoned or sub-marginal farmlands for reforestation. In 1931, the state government set up a temporary emergency relief administration. The unemployed were hired to work in reforestation projects, clearing underbrush, fighting fires, controlling insects, constructing roads and trails, and developing recreation facilities.

    At the same time New York State was developing their conservation and reforestation program, other states including California, Washington, Virginia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Indiana, were hiring or planning for the unemployed to do conservation work. The states of California and Washington, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service developed work camps for the unemployed. By 1932, California had established 25 camps of 200 men each.

    By 1932, the governments of Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Austria and Germany had developed youth corps.

    The need for a national conservation corps became evident in the early 1930’s. In 1931, about 2 million people were “on the road” including an estimated 250,000 teenagers. Approximately 54% of young men between the ages of 17 and 25 were either out of work or working unsteadily in meager jobs. By 1933, an estimated 12-15 million people were out of work. Farms were being abandoned, more than 100,000 businesses went bankrupt and more than 2,000 banks had shut their doors. From an environmental perspective, only 100 million acres of an original 800 million acres of virgin forests were left and 6 billion tons of top soil were lost to wind and erosion each year.

    In the years following the end of World War II and the Korean Conflict, several attempts were made by conservation groups to re-establish the program.

    In 1957, the National Park Service placed summer volunteers in the Grand Teton and Olympic National Parks in a new program called the Student Conservation Program (SCP). The concept of engaging young people as park volunteers was suggested by Elizabeth Cushman in her 1955 senior thesis, "A Proposed Student Conservation Corps". Her idea, similar in many ways to the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930’s, was to take the burden of labor-intensive jobs such as entrance fee collecting or trail work from National Park Service employees and shift those tasks to the student program.

    1964 saw the Student Conservation Program transition from the National Park Service to a new organization known as the Student Conservation Association, Inc. (SCA). Conrad Wirth, former NPS Director, would become the new association’s chair and Elizabeth Cushman Titus would be named as SCA’s president.

    A Youth Conservation Corps was proposed by Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota in 1959 in an attempt to save trees, land, and youth. This bill passed the Senate by a vote of 47-45, but due to opposition by the Eisenhower Administration, the House refused to consider it.

    While running for office in 1960, John Kennedy proposed a corps of 100,000 youth between ages 18 and 25 to work to preserve forests, stock lakes and rivers, clear streams, and protect America’s abundance of natural resources. In 1963 the President’s Committee on Youth Employment pointed out that over a half million young people between ages 16 and 21 were out of school and out of work, and that number could very well double by 1970. Several attempts to establish a youth conservation corps during the Kennedy Administration failed.

    Once again, Congress failed to act on a federal youth conservation corps program that offered no formal training and thought that a simple work relief program like the CCC did not meet the needs of the 1960’s.

    Rebirth of conservation corps programs

    It was in 1965 that a youth conservation corps program would finally develop. One of the major concerns of President Johnson’s war on poverty was how to help the rising number of teenage drop-outs and draft rejectees break the “cycle of poverty.” Sargent Shriver, the President’s General in the War on Poverty, incorporated a youth conservation element into a new training program to be known as the “Job Corps.”

    Through this effort, the Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers (JCCCC), like the CCC camps of the 1930’s were administered by Federal land managing agencies like the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service. These conservation centers would be just one of several types of Job Corps Centers that also included male or female urban centers.

    At first, the Job Corps specifically designed the conservation centers for enrollees with less than a 5th grade reading level. Enrollees stayed at conservation centers until their reading level improved and then were transferred to urban centers for vocational training. Critics claimed the conservation centers were disguised “labor camps” since they managed the least educated youth and more than half the enrollee’s time was spent on conservation work. As a result of this criticism, the policy of separating youth by educational level was which gave the conservation centers equal status with other types of Job Corps centers. Conservation centers still differed from other centers in size with only 160-220 students versus up to 2,000 students in the larger urban centers. Also, training at the conservation centers had a tendency to parallel the types of conservation work needed near the centers. While the primary focus of Job Corps is to provide young adults with vocational training, many of the training projects conducted by the Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers help meet the conservation and community service objectives of nearby local and federal agencies. The U.S. Forest Service operates 28 Civilian Conservation Centers nation-wide.

    In 1964, Lloyd Meeds, a candidate for Congress, from the state of Washington used the creation of a Federal Youth Conservation Corps as a campaign issue. Congressman Meeds and Senator Henry Jackson had been impressed with the state of Washington’s own Youth Development and Conservation Corps which had begun in 1960. It was the effort of these two legislators that began the process that would result in the passage of a Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) bill.

    Legislative aides working with staff from the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior worked together to create the YCC. Senator Jackson introduced W.1076 in the Senate on February 18, 1969 and stressed the educational impacts of his proposal. Young people, he said, “would acquire an appreciation for our natural resources which cannot be taught in schools. In addition, they would develop good work habits and attitudes which would persist for the remainder of their lives.”

    Despite opposition from the Nixon Administration, the Youth Conservation Corps began as a small pilot program in the summer of 1971. After three summers of operation as a pilot program, and with strong Congressional support, the YCC became a permanent institution in 1974. Program participation jumped from 3,510 in 1973, to 9,813 youth in 1974, and continued to grow until it peaked at 46,000 enrollees in 1978. In the first ten years of operation, the Youth Conservation Corps provided an opportunity for over 213,300 young people to “earn while they learn.” Between the years of 1974 and 1980, the YCC flourished and youth could be found nationwide each summer accomplishing needed conservation projects while gaining valuable insights into their environment. In addition to being operated on National Forest Service and Department of Interior lands, YCC programs were conducted throughout fifty states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, the trust territory of the Pacific Islands, and American Samoa. In 1980 the YCC was dealt an almost fatal blow when funding was halted by the Reagan Administration. Both the Departments of Interior and Agriculture felt so strongly about the Youth Conservation Corps that they have continued the program on a much reduced level with funds coming directly from each agency’s existing budget.

    Late in the 1970s, an even larger federal program was launched, the Young Adult Conservation Corps (YACC), which provided young people with year-round conservation-related employment and education opportunities. With an annual appropriation of $260 million and employing approximately 25,000 individuals, the YACC operated at both the federal and state levels. Like the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s, the Young Adult Conservation Corps provided federal, tribal and state agencies the opportunity to complete valuable conservation and community service projects while providing opportunities for young Americans. As a result of the 1980 federal elections, funding for the YACC ended but the program would provide a working model that many future state and local conservation corps would utilize.

    State, local and urban conservation corps

    The value of Youth Conservation Corps and the Young Adult Conservation Corps had been proven and many states had already begun to support these programs directly. California became the first when former-Governor Jerry Brown launched the California Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1976. By the end of the decade, conservation corps were operating in Iowa and Ohio, and during the first half of the 1980s in several other states, including Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

    In 1983, the emerging Youth Corps movement took a new twist with the birth of the first urban conservation corps programs. Once again, California took the lead with the start-up of urban conservation corps in Marin County, San Francisco and Oakland (East Bay), plus eight more in subsequent years. The California local corps were strengthened by passage of the California Bottle Act in 1985, which earmarked funding for local corps’ recycling projects.

    Just a year later, New York City established the City Volunteer Corps (CVC) and added a new dimension to the corps field by engaging young people in the delivery of human services as well as conservation work. During the mid-1980s, new state and local corps continued to spring up across the country despite the absence of federal support. Many of the early local conservation corps began to add human services projects to their portfolios.

    Late in the 1980s, with support from several large foundations (Ford, Kellogg, Hewlett, Mott, Rockefeller, and the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, among others), The Corps Network (formerly known as NASCC) and Public/Private Ventures (P/PV) sponsored a national demonstration to create and evaluate urban corps in 10 cities across the country. The best practices gleaned from the established corps programs and the first of these new corps became operational in the fall of 1990.

    In 1992, the youth corps movement saw the first targeted federal funding in more than a decade, when the Commission on National and Community Service awarded approximately $22.5 million in grants to 23 states, the District of Columbia, the Los Angeles Conservation Corps (LACC) (for disaster relief projects) and five Indian tribes. These funds became available under the American Conservation and Youth Service Corps Act or Subtitle C of the National and Community Service Act of 1990. While only half of the established corps benefited directly from these funds, the number of corps programs almost doubled to just over 100 as a result of the new Federal "seed" money.

    In 1993, the Congress enacted and President Clinton signed The National and Community Service Trust Act, which amended Subtitle C of the 1990 legislation to provide federal support to many kinds of community service programs in addition to the traditional youth corps. Within this new legislation would be authorized a new program, the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), a team based residential program for young men and women age 16-24. NCCC members serve in teams of ten to twelve and are assigned to projects throughout the nation addressing critical needs in education, public safety and the environment. The new law also established post-service educational benefits for participants through the AmeriCorps Program. During the first full year of AmeriCorps, beginning in September 1994, 53 youth corps received AmeriCorps grants through state-wide population-based and competitive processes as well as through a national direct application process and collaborations with Federal agencies.

    In recent years, there has been an increase in funding along with a corresponding growth of the conservation corps community. However, much more is needed to address today’s youth employment, social and environmental issues.

    Many of today’s corps have benefited from the support of Civilian Conservation Corps veterans. Over the past 40 years CCC alumni have assisted with developing new corps programs, providing program guidance as Board members. Furthermore, they are strong advocates for youth and the environment.

    Today, members of CCC Legacy, young and old, continue to support the idea that corps programs efficiently develop this nation’s most precious human and natural resources.

    Watch the video: FDR on Civilian Conservation Corps (January 2022).