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"Farm Security Administration: farmers whose topsoil blew away joined the sod caravans of ‘Okies’ on Route 66 to California” ca. 1935. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

CCC Beginnings

During the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, droughts in combination with farming practices that encouraged erosion created homelessness and environmental devastation. Because they were unable to grow and harvest crops, farming families were forced to leave their homes, only to find few job prospects during the Great Depression. The severe economic and environmental consequences of erosion made the need for conservation in the 1930s even more important.

Franklin Roosevelt previously worked on reforestation programs on a small scale at his family’s estate in Hyde Park, New York and as governor of New York. In this role, he supported reforestation and giving unemployed men temporary jobs to plant trees and work on conservation programs for the state. When Roosevelt accepted the Democratic nomination for president, he proclaimed: “We know that a very hopeful and immediate means of relief, both for the unemployed and for agriculture, will come from a wide plan of the converting of many millions of acres of marginal and unused land into timber land through reforestation.”

Similar programs using unemployed men for work planting trees and other conservation projects took place in other states in the early 1930s. In the spring of 1933, Roosevelt requested that the Departments of War, the Interior, Agriculture, and Labor join forces to develop a plan for unemployment relief through the creation of a civilian conservation corps, which would work on conservation projects. This initiative would coordinate programs on a national level that had previously operated within individual states.