Nature's New Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Roots of the American Environmental Movement
Neil M. Maher
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The Great Depression coincided with a wave of natural disasters, including the Dust Bowl and devastating floods of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Recovering from these calamities--and preventing their reoccurrence--was a major goal of the New Deal.
In Nature's New Deal, Neil M. Maher examines the history of one of Franklin D. Roosevelt's boldest and most successful experiments, the Civilian Conservation Corps, describing it as a turning point both in national politics and in the emergence of modern environmentalism. Indeed, Roosevelt addressed both the economic and environmental crises by putting Americans to work at conserving natural resources, through the Soil Conservation Service, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Civilian Conservation Corps (or CCC). The CCC created public landscapes--natural terrain altered by federal work projects--that helped environmentalism blossom after World War II, Maher notes. Millions of Americans devoted themselves to a new vision of conservation, one that went beyond the old model of simply maximizing the efficient use of natural resources, to include the promotion of human health through outdoor recreation, wilderness preservation, and ecological balance. And yet, as Maher explores the rise and development of the CCC, he also shows how the critique of its campgrounds, picnic areas, hiking trails, and motor roads frames the debate over environmentalism to this day.
From the colorful life at CCC camps, to political discussions in the White House and the philosophical debates dating back to John Muir and Frederick Law Olmsted, Nature's New Deal captures a key moment in the emergence of modern environmentalism.
Follette, and the Wisconsin State Conservation Commission. 81. W. B. Sheppard, “Work of the CCC Is Found Unwise,” letter to the editor, New York Times, 18 November 1934, sec. iv, p. 5. For other examples, see C. A. B., “Wilderness,” letter to the editor, New York Times, 1 September 1935, sec. iv, p. 9; and Rosalie Edge, “Forestry Camps Harm Game,” letter to the editor, New York Times, 11 June 1933, sec. iv, p. 5. 82. Emergency Conservation Committee, Fighting the Good Fight: An Account of
“Problem of the Wilderness, The” (Marshall), 172–73 programmatic coordination and New Deal, 185–87, 195–96, 198–99, 201, 203, 206–7, 288n11 Progressive Era, 4–7, 10–12, 17–41, 229n12, 233n14, 236n41 and Boy Scouts, 33–35, 35, 36–39, 41, 238n65, 239nn71, 72 and evolution of CCC, 56–57, 66, 70, 74–75 and national debate about CCC, 157–58, 161, 179 and Pinchot, 24–28, 124, 149, 157, 159, 235nn34, 36 and planning, 187–88, 208–9 and post-World War II era, 217–18 public
Roosevelt’s administration. Understanding how the CCC “wrote its name into the economic, social, and educational history of this country” is therefore dependent on the very landscape that Corps enrollees left behind. Before the CCC could begin its work, the Roosevelt administration had to determine the geographic distribution of Corps camps and their nearby conservation projects. Due to his desire to conserve natural resources on a national scale, and because he was already conscious of the
CCC enrollees as neighbors. This support for the Corps on the local level reached its zenith in 1936, when the Roosevelt administration tried to reduce the number of CCC camps nationwide. Besieged with letters, petitions, telegrams, and phone calls from constituents in their home districts, congressional representatives rejected the proposed reduction and voted instead to increase funding for the popular New Deal program.9 As CCC director Robert Fechner explained in the mid-1930s, “for two and
Business Week in May 1935, “that the neighboring camp is the bright spot on their business map.”108 The “bright spots” on the Smoky Mountains’ business map jump-started local economies across the region. In 1935, for instance, the seventeen Corps camps in existence had cost the Corps approximately $374,000 to construct and more than $1 million to maintain, with much of this money finding its way into nearby bank accounts through the purchase of goods and services.109 Each year, the CCC continued