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.
behind continued to affect both American nature and American politics into the postwar decades. The CCC’s postwar influence began with the country’s impending entry into World War II, which forced politicians in Washington, D.C., to begin debating the future, or lack thereof, of this New Deal program. “The Civilian Conservation Corps received what may be its death warning,” explained American Forests during the summer of 1942, “when the bill providing appropriations for the Federal Security
Department of War would be responsible for the daily functioning of the CCC camps, the Department of Agriculture would supervise the conservation projects in national and state forests and the Department of the Interior would oversee the work performed in national and state parks. After outlining these ideas to brain truster Raymond Moley on March 14, the president asked the secretaries of war, interior, agriculture, and labor to coordinate plans for putting the proposed program into operation
Livable: Environmental Policy, Gender, and Power in Chicago in the 1910s,” Journal of Urban History 22, no. 2 (January 1996): 163–190. 57. Frederick Law Olmsted, “Public Parks and the Enlargement of Towns,” Journal of Social Science: Containing the Transactions of the American Association, no. 3 (1871): 76, as quoted in Boyer, Urban Masses, 238. For a good analysis of Olmsted’s environmentalist philosophy and his influence on the city beautiful movement, see Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement,
Forest Service employee Mr. Charles Randall, 1 February 1935, RG 35: CCC, Entry 2: General Correspondence, File 400: University of Mississippi, NARA. On other enrollees who went on to pursue conservation-related degrees see Phoebe Cutler, The Public Landscape of the New Deal (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985), 94. Cutler writes, “The CCC left a patrimony of men dedicated to the outdoors and skilled in appropriate trades. Many CCC youths continued on in the park and forest line of
became actively involved in a host of environmental groups across the country. The Corps did likewise through the creation of a slew of postwar state conservation corps, and through copycat federal programs that continue to function even in the twenty-first century. Most important but less obvious, however, are the thousands of actual landscapes left behind by the CCC, which are scattered across the nation’s forests, farms, and parks. Atop the Massanutten Mountains in George Washington National