Delivering a Belt to the Depression
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
It was a grandiose project, but in the midst of the Great Depression, the citizens of North Dakota, as well as the rest of the nation, were willing to do anything to alleviate the hardships of those years. The latest plan that would help provide jobs and prevent future droughts was to plant a 100-mile wide shelterbelt through the Midwest. The belt would stretch from the Canadian border to the Texas panhandle. Plans were moving forward accordingly, and it was reported today in 1935 that the state shelterbelt office was moved to Jamestown.
By planting the belt, it was hoped that soil erosion from wind and water could be reduced, and evaporation could be lessened, which would thereby increase humidity throughout the Midwest. Like most other New Deal plans of the time, the project would also create employment opportunities, which was a prospect the small town of Litchville in Barnes County looked forward to. According to the Litchville Bulletin, the belt would run directly through “Litchville country,” and would provide jobs for planting and maintaining the forest, and thus generate income for the community.
Much of the preparatory work had already taken place the year before. By the fall of 1934, ten million dollars of the estimated 75 million dollars needed to fund the program had been set aside to launch the project. Work to acquire the land had also begun. It was hoped the two million acres needed for the ambitious project could be acquired through long-term leases, or through some other optional and cooperative agreement. The planting of the saplings was not expected to be fully underway until 1936.
Though a number of people, including Senator Nye, was optimistic about the project, many doubted that a forest could grow in the dry soil of North Dakota. In refutation to those critics, Nye said that the loss of trees to drought in McHenry County, where soil was largely sand, was less than ten percent. As part of a similar project, the Denbigh Experimental Forest had been planted near Towner in 1931 to test which trees would be able to grow in the upper Midwestern soil and climate. Of the forty different species of trees planted there from throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia, thirty of those species thrived.
At the onset of World War Two, however, the plans for the shelterbelt were dropped as the money for the project was dedicated to the war. Not only was interest lost in the project, but one of its objectives, the generation of employment opportunities, was no longer needed after 1942. The Denbigh Forest, however, remains a success of those federally funded experimental forests of the 1930s. Today, thirty of the forty species planted there are still thriving, and the nursery sells about 1.3 million seedlings a year, 40 percent of which come from the Denbigh Forest.
Dakota Datebook written by Tessa Sandstrom
McPherson, James. “North Dakota Experimental Forest a Surprise Success.” ENN.com. <http://www.forestrycenter.org/headlines.cfm?RefID=74928> December 8, 2004.
“Lincoln Nebraska, To Be Shelterbelt Headquarters,” Litchville Bulletin. Aug. 17, 1934:1.
“Litchville Country to be in “Shelterbelt,” according report,” Litchville Bulletin. Aug. 10, 1934: 1.
“Forest plan indorsed,” Litchville Bulletin. Aug. 10, 1934: 6.
“Shelter Belt of Trees Will Not Take Place of Diversion Plan, Nye Says,” The Jamestown Sun. July 31, 1934: 1.
Stutsman County Record. September 5, 1935.