Dust Bowl Series: The Importance of Soil Health
A topic we overlook frequently is the health of our soil. Although it may seem like once you plant your seed that nature is in control, we couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Different species of plants grow in different areas of our nation because of geography. Weather, altitude, soil type and the amount of nutrients in the soil are all reasons different plants grow better in different environments. Before we settled the Great Plains, for example, the land had its own ecosystem and regulated itself naturally, depending on the rain it got that year, how many animals ate the plants and how much of the plants were stomped into the ground and re-absorbed into the soil. In today’s age, we have houses, plants that aren’t native to the area, and basic human effect on the land. This changes the soil more than we think about. That is why we should pay attention to what kind of soil we have and what we need to do to take care of it.
In this post I am going to be outlining one of the greatest erosion disasters in our nation, explaining how it happened and what we did to fix it
Back in the 1930’s, the Great Depression hit alongside of one of the largest man-made natural catastrophes in America’s history; the Dust Bowl. Lessons that farmers, scientists and everyday people learned from this chapter of our history textbooks is this: before nature gives us the fruits of our labor, we must ensure we give her something back.
A little overview of the Dust Bowl; how did it happen?
When the people of America who homesteaded (per the governments’ request) settled in the plains, they farmed little gardens to keep the family afloat. Decades later, their ancestors would plow-up their land to farm, fueled by rising wheat prices, a war in Europe and a couple good years of rain. They ran out the indigenous grasses and reaped the land of all of its nutrients by relentlessly farming. The farmers, not knowing the consequences, didn’t practice responsible farming techniques and robbed the soil of its nutrients. This caused the soil to not be able to grow anything well. Around the same time, drought struck the plains and added insult to injury; not only were the crops without nutrients in the soil, they were also without water. This caused the crops to fail over and over again. Without the indigenous grasses or any crops in place, the naturally high winds that haunted the plains picked up the loose, nutrient-drained soil and spread its dry dust across the plains. This created massive dust storms, which marked the Dust Bowl period. This type of erosion is called wind erosion.
The aftermath of the Dust Bowl consisted of every scientist and environmentalist desperately trying to find a way to prevent anything as disastrous as that to ever happen again.
Government agencies like the Soil Conservation Service (SCS)—now the Natural Resources Conservation Service—began to stress soil conservation measures. Alongside the SCS was the U.S. Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture, and later on, The National Drought Mitigation Center.
Scientists started researching the catastrophe and gave answers to many lingering questions. With answers came solutions. The greatest expansion in research on the Dust Bowl in recent years has come in the atmospheric sciences.
After the dust bowl, a solution to replant came to life: Crested Wheatgrass. The grass could hold the topsoil down because it grew well despite droughts. Companies ended up going out and replanting the plains as part of awareness.
The government purchased almost four million acres of land during the Dust Bowl. The land was restored as national grasslands, which prevented the soil from blowing so much.
Next week, I’ll be digging into the Crested Wheatgrass solution.