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    Grasslands rooted in dust

    by Delbert Trew
    Delbert Trew

    While traveling the Great Plains and the two Panhandles these past years, I keep running into places called National Grasslands. In Texas and Oklahoma, they are called The Rita Blanca National Grasslands; in Kansas, they are named The Cimarron National Grasslands; in Colorado, The Comanche National Grasslands; and in New Mexico, The Kiowa National Grasslands. I've not to date found the total acreage, but it must be hundreds of thousands of acres.

    Just how, when and why did the establishment of these "national" grassland places take place?

    We have to go back to 1933, the worst year of The Great Depression, The Dust Bowl and the "First Hundred Days" of the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The nation was trapped in the tragic depression, and farmers were fighting to survive the worst drought in modern history. The U.S. was in dire straits and would be hard-pressed to survive.

    If farmers in the Great Plains were to remain on the farms, government aid had to take place and quickly. To implement this type of aid Roosevelt created the Agriculture Adjustment Administration, which the farmers shortened to "The Triple A."

    Devised to aid farmers in need, it had strings attached like all government programs. To receive any payments you had to reduce your acreage and livestock numbers to help reduce the surplus grains and meat production before prices would rise. These payments were referred to as "allotment checks."

    I can remember my parents waiting to receive their allotment check in order to buy seed and gas to plant wheat in the fall each year.

    Another program of The Triple A was to purchase "sub-marginal" farm lands, those more subject to blowing than other lands, much of which had already been abandoned by its owners. Over the course of nine years beginning in 1934, the government purchased several hundred thousand acres in the heart of the Dust Bowl areas in order to begin soil reclamation.

    Government employees plowed the land into deep furrows and planted drought-resistant crops such as Black Amber Cane and Sudan Grass. When the soil stabilized they replanted with native grasses and built erosion control terraces and flood-control dams. All these efforts were done to demonstrate new farming techniques that could return the lost lands to productivity.

    Plagued by low, slow payments, periodic depleted funding, red tape and continuous changing requirements, the Triple A programs were cursed and complained about at every turn.

    However, the practices involved worked and helped curb the blowing dust significantly. The return to productivity is certainly in evidence today by the appearance of the beautiful prairie grasslands.

    Handed off to various government agencies down through the years, the grasslands are mostly administered by the Bureau of Land Management branches of the Agriculture Department.

    Today, this once-devastated land stands as a landmark to state planning. They are actually landmarks or monuments to the great Dust Bowl experience. Next time you see a national grasslands sign, don't look for blowing dust. The dust stopped here!

    Delbert Trew
    "It's All Trew"
    March 22, 2011 column
    Delbert Trew is a freelance writer and retired rancher. He can be reached at 806-779-3164, by mail at Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002, or by e-mail at trewblue@centramedia.net. For books see DelbertTrew.com. His column appears weekly.

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    This page last modified: March 22, 2011