This Day in Texas History: Soil Conservation Board established

This Day in Texas History:

Soil Conservation Board established
May 29, 1939

Dust BowlOn this day in 1939, the State Soil Conservation Board was organized to implement state conservation laws and organize and assist soil-conservation districts across the state in response to the devastating Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

State headquarters was established in Temple, and a five-member board served as the agency’s policy-making body. Sixteen soil-conservation districts were organized by 1949. In 1965 the agency’s name was changed to the State Soil and Water Conservation Board. Over the years the board has coordinated a variety of programs. In cooperation with other conservation and agricultural agencies, over a billion feet of terraces have been constructed to prevent soil erosion.

The board also works with the Railroad Commission to examine and care for areas affected by mining operations. By 2003 the number of conservation districts in Texas had grown to 216.

The Dust Bowl evolved out of a period of extreme drought, combined with strong winds and very high temperatures and exacerbated by farming methods incompatible with the Prairie ecosystem.  Expanded homesteading of the Great Plains in the previous decade, combined with mechanized plowing and harvesting eroded the land and destroyed the natural grasses that held the soil in place and helped retain moisture in this arid land.

During the ensuing drought, combined with massive wind storms, millions of tons of topsoil were displaced, turning the sky black and causing eye damage, blindness and respiratory ailments from the Plains to the East Coast.  100 Million acres of land were affected by the Dust Bowl, centered on the Texas Panhandle and extending to New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas.

John Steinbeck wrote about the hardships of this era in The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men.  A recent Dust Bowl film by Ken Burns has been airing on PBS.

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