"Work of an Outstanding Nature"
The Bureau of Biological Survey and the Civilian Conservation Corps 1
Possibly the most popular and best-remembered of all of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was established in 1933 as a response to financial and employment crises during the Great Depression. Drawing on the collective response of several government units, the CCC had two main objectives.
The first goal was to provide employment for the millions of jobless young men struggling to survive in a severely depressed economy 2. The second goal of the CCC was to advance efforts of conservation and reforestation of America's natural resources. By putting youth to work on conservation projects, Roosevelt felt that the CCC bolstered human and natural resources at the same time.
Between 1933 and 1942, over 3,000,000 young men, primarily between the ages of 18 and 23, signed up to live and work in thousands of camps across the United States, as well as in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. These men had to be unemployed, unmarried, out of school, and willing to allot a significant portion of their monthly pay to dependent family members.
Aside from manual outdoor labor, CCC workers also had access to educational programs, and every man was required to become literate during his enrollment.
Due to the use of uniforms, drill sessions, and army personnel in organizing the camps, the CCC was sometimes criticized as being too militaristic. Even so, the program enjoyed great success, inspiring countless individuals during difficult times. In 1942, the CCC came to an end due to improved economic conditions and war mobilization.
"Save the Soil, Save the Forests, Save the Young Men"—The CCC in Colorado
The Civilian Conservation Corps had deep involvement in Colorado, due in part to its rambling forest lands, its windswept eastern plains, and its high unemployment rate during the Great Depression. Over 40 CCC camps were stationed Colorado, and workers faced a barrage of challenges from scorching sun in the southwest to knee-deep snow in the mountains. As in the rest of the nation, the Bureau of Biological Survey enlisted CCC camps to help with several projects involving rodent and insect control, fence construction, and wildlife surveying. One enrollee who worked in Evergreen in 1933 described his CCC experience in Colorado:
“It provided positive, constructive work with definite projects, organized work, and it introduced you to the beauty of the outdoors…it had all sorts of intangible values.”
Joined Forces: The Bureau of Biological Survey and the CCC
From 1933 onward, the United States Bureau of Biological Survey (BBS), predecessor agency to the National Wildlife Research Center, joined forces with the CCC, directing thousands of young men on a variety of projects across the country. By the late 1930s, over $1,250,000 annually was made available to the BBS to fund CCC operations, and one in five of the auxiliary personnel employed by the BBS were former CCC enrollees. Ultimately, the BBS and the CCC became so allied by 1938 that the Bureau was reorganized to include a Division of Construction and CCC Operations 3.
Under the guidance of BBS personnel, CCC workers cleared tracts, cleaned out underbrush, and furthered rodent control on both national forests and on more than 5,000,000 acres of Native American reservation lands. CCC enrollees also helped manage the growth of undesirable water plants in the Potomac River, and engaged in mosquito control operations along the Atlantic Coast Salt Marshes.
Some of the CCC's most extensive work for the BBS occurred on wildlife and bird refuges. CCC workers helped accomplish the Bureau's two-fold objective at the refuges: to facilitate refuge administration and to increase attractiveness to wildlife. Camps were established on 32 refuges, including the St. Mark's Migratory Bird Refuge in Florida, the Charles Sheldon Antelope Refuge in Nevada, and the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. Typical CCC work at the refuges involved the building of dams to create breeding habitats along with the planting of trees and food-producing vegetation. Enrollees also created firebreaks, fences, and roads. The progress of the CCC camps was inspected by an official of the BBS, who described the accomplishments of the corps to be “work of an outstanding nature.”
What They Did
BUREAU OF BIOLOGICAL SURVEY. Reports of the Chief of the Bureau of Biological Survey, 1933-1939. United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C., USA.
COLORADO STATE ARCHIVES. Civilian Conservation Corps Collection. http://www.colorado.gov/dpa/doit/archives/ccc/cccscope.html
GUTHRIE, J.D. 1942. Saga of the CCC. American Forestry Association, Washington, D.C., USA
JAMES F. JUSTIN CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS MUSEUM. An online museum of histories, items, stories, links and photographs regarding the CCCs. http://members.aol.com/famjustin/ccchis.html
KYLIE, H.R., G.H. HIERONYMUS, AND A.G. HALL. 1937. CCC Forestry. Washington D.C.
LACY, L. A. 1976. The soil soldiers—The Civilian Conservation Corps in the Great Depression. Chilton Book Company, Radnor, Pennsylvania, USA.
LYONS, THOMAS, ed. 1930 Employment 1980—Humanistic Perspectives on the Civilian Conservation Corps in Colorado. Boulder: Colorado Division of Employment & Training, 1981.
OTIS, A.T. ET AL. 1986. The Forest Service and the Civilian Conservation Corps: 1933-42. U.S Forest Service, Washington D.C., USA.
1Photo at left from NWRC Collection at NARA U00744-6. Photo at right from Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USW33-T01-000067-MI.