Friday, April 23, 2010

Just in from Washington

An earth day reflection:

Washington--Earth Day draws our attention to current conservation work and future conservation needs and, is also a time to reflect on past conservationists that left their marks on our nation. Hugh Hammond Bennett is one of these conservationists. Bennett brought national attention to the soil erosion threat facing America at the turn of the 20th Century.

Hugh Bennett worked for United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a soil surveyor, classifying and mapping soil types and soil properties in the eastern United States. While doing soil surveys, Bennett observed that soil erosion contributed to declining crop yields. He realized soil erosion would impair our nation’s ability to produce food if nothing was done to stop it. And so he began a soil conservation movement that changed farming practices and government policies.

Recognizing the harm soil erosion caused America’s farmlands, Bennett raised awareness of the erosion threat through speeches and articles aimed at both scientists and the general public.
And, he worked on erosion solutions to save America’s soil resources.

Bennett studied soil erosion and methods of control across the nation. He saw that land should be farmed according to its potential and advocated growing crops that suited the land’s capabilities. He believed that erosion susceptibility should be a guiding principle in farm planning. He went so far as to identify soil types that should be left in trees or grass or used less intensively than cropland. Considered the USDA expert on soil erosion, Bennett set up a series of soil conservation experiment stations across the nation to show farmers successful conservation methods. The more he learned, the more Bennett pushed for a national soil erosion program.

The emergency programs of the Great Depression provided funding to establish the Soil Erosion Service in 1933; Bennett was named its director. In this capacity he initiated demonstration projects to show how soil erosion control was much more than building terraces, the soil erosion solution of the 1920s. He saw erosion control as a multidisciplinary approach based on both management and vegetation practices. He promoted soil conservation practices such as land contouring, strip cropping, crop rotations, and grassed waterways to curb erosion. The demonstration projects intensified interest in the soil conservation movement.

In 1935, the Soil Erosion Service was more permanently established under the Department of Agriculture and renamed the Soil Conservation Service; it was directed by Hugh Bennett. Similar to Gifford Pinchot’s advocacy to form the Forest Service and Stephen Mather’s support for the National Park Service, Bennett succeeded in seeing his soil conservation program institutionalized in a federal agency - the work now carried out through the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Hugh Hammond Bennett’s passion for soil conservation won many converts and he personified the soil conservation movement – the Father of Soil Conservation.

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