Skip to main content
ARS Home » Midwest Area » Ames, Iowa » National Laboratory for Agriculture and The Environment » Soil, Water & Air Resources Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #240342

Title: The Prairie States Forestry Project as a Model for an Effective Global Climate Change Mitigation Project

item Sauer, Thomas

Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/17/2009
Publication Date: 11/1/2010
Citation: Sauer, T.J. 2010. The Prairie States Forestry Project as a Model for an Effective Global Climate Change Mitigation Project. In: Kellimore, L.R., editor. Agroforestry: Management, Practices and Environmental Impact. Hauppauge, NY: Nova Publishers. p. 479-482.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: There is an increasing sense of urgency surrounding global climate change and a growing consensus that significant measures are warranted and should be implemented in a timely manner. Reforestation, afforestation, and soil carbon sequestration are three land management strategies among the suite of options available for reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and mitigating potential adverse climate change impacts. The current situation has some parallels with another pressing climate-related environmental challenge amidst the economic crisis of the 1930's. Persistent drought, poor soil management, and subsequent wind erosion in the Great Plains states of the U.S. during this decade (the so-called "Dust Bowl") created a major environmental crisis. The Dust Bowl conditions were exacerbated by a deep economic depression that produced severe economic and social disruption. To address this bleak situation, the federal government considered novel, large-scale programs to quickly bring physical and economic relief to rural populations in six of the most severely-affected Dust Bowl states. One of the key Dust Bowl relief programs was the Prairie States Forestry Project (PSFP), which was also known as the "Shelterbelt Project". The project had multiple goals but chief among these were providing jobs for unemployed citizens in the region and alleviating drought conditions by creating multi-row tree windbreaks that would stabilize the soils, create a more favorable microclimate for crops, and more comfortable conditions for humans. Throughout its seven year history (1935-42) the PSFP program would result in the planting of over 217 million trees in almost 30,000 km of shelterbelts in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Viewed by modern standards, the PSFP was conceived, designed, and implemented in an astonishingly short period of time. A critical element of the PSFP success was the keen interest and at times direct involvement of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt took a strong personal interest in the success of the PSFP, which likely encouraged line managers to devote special attention to the project. Many factors regarding seedling selection, site preparation, and planting techniques, however, were developed at the lowest levels within the PSFP. Thus, simultaneous top-down and bottom-up management styles were used with remarkable effectiveness. The PSFP remains the largest single afforestation program in U.S. history and one of the most sustained and focused efforts by the federal government to address a specific environmental challenge. Although climate change is a much more complex and global phenomena, there may be important lessons from the PSFP experience. Jared Diamond's recent bestseller "Collapse –How societies choose to fail or succeed". The PSFP fits the profile of a highly successful decision-making process. The challenge now is to engage similar decision-making methods as proposed by Diamond and demonstrated by the successful PSFP of the 1930’s to craft effective policies and programs for addressing global climate change.