Nature's New Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Roots of the American Environmental Movement

Nature's New Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Roots of the American Environmental Movement

Nature's New Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Roots of the American Environmental Movement

Nature's New Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Roots of the American Environmental Movement

Synopsis

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 Dealcaptures a key moment in the emergence of modern environmentalism.

Excerpt

In late April 1933, a young man named John Ripley climbed a solitary pine tree atop the Massanutten Mountains in George Washington National Forest, ten miles west of Luray, Virginia. After catching his breath on the uppermost branch, which bowed dangerously under his own weight, Ripley took a short-handled ax and with awkward strokes chopped the top off the slender pine. He next attached a rope and pulley to the tip of the tree, shimmied from his perch, and began working his way down the trunk of the thirty-five-foot evergreen, hacking off branch after branch until the young tree stood straight and bare. Near the bottom, Ripley wiped his brow before tying the other end of the rope to an American flag. At the base of the tree, where a crowd of locals from nearby communities had gathered along with newspaper reporters, magazine photographers, and film crews from across the country, a cheer quickly went up. Then, as if on cue, John Ripley’s colleagues, who were all dressed in identical olive-green uniforms, pulled on the rope and hoisted Old Glory high above Camp Roosevelt, the first Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp in the nation.

While the conversion of a pine tree into a flagpole by young CCC enrollees may alarm contemporary environmentalists, it nevertheless hints at a number of important historical changes set in motion by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Most obvious was the modification of the natural landscape, in this case a mountaintop pine grove, which Corps enrollees altered through their physical labor. The more than 3 million young men who joined the CCC between 1933 and 1942 undertook similarly transformative work, planting 2 billion trees, slowing soil erosion on 40 million acres of farmland, and developing . . .

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