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PBS Dust Bowl Special: A Wake-Up Call for American Hunters and Anglers

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November 19, 2012

PBS Dust Bowl Special: A Wake-Up Call for American Hunters and Anglers

By Chad Love

If you aren't watching already, dump all television plans tonight to catch part two of Ken Burn's mesmerizing PBS special "The Dust Bowl." You couldn't ask for a better glimpse of our potential future than this masterful telling of our past. I don't know if Ken Burns (who is a national treasure) hunts or fishes, but the almost prescient timing of his latest project is a perfect wake-up call for American hunters and anglers.

"The Dust Bowl" is an amazing documentary in its own right, but you would have to be blind, deaf and dumb (really, really dumb) to not notice the parallels between the social/economic factors responsible for "The Great Plow-Up" of the early 20th Century and what's taking place right now in the plains and midwestern states. And when you throw in the obvious similarities between the climatological conditions responsible for the Dust Bowl and the current long-term drought in a great many plains and midwestern states, well, things start getting eerie. And frightening.

We are, it seems, living the past. And utterly ignoring it. Once again the sod is being turned over at a staggering rate. Shelterbelts are being ripped out and planted. Marginal, erosion-prone areas are being put into production. In many areas of the southern plains, the only, and I mean literally the only areas offering any cover for wildlife (and anchor for the soil) are lands enrolled in programs like CRP. Everything else, to the horizon, is an undulating furrow of loose, tilled soil. Conservation groups like Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited are fighting an uphill battle right now to save these federal and state conservation programs that, while literal drops in the bucket compared to other sacred funding cows, are in danger of being eliminated because they're "too expensive."

But watching "The Dust Bowl" and making the glaringly obvious connections between then and now makes it damn hard to define what's "too expensive." Maybe, instead of just passively watching "The Dust Bowl" we should all send a link to every one of our elected representatives, especially the ones who claim we simply "can't afford" conservation programs any more.

Comments (15)

Top Rated
All Comments
from labrador12 wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

So CO2 levels have doodly squat to do with drought conditions and temps? The thirties and today are not compareable because it was much warmer then even though the CO2 levels were much lower. I agree Chad. The thirties sucked, let's hope that the weather isn't as bad in the next few years as it was then.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Gsquare wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

It's a little farfetched to equate the present 1 (someplaces 2) year drought to the dustbowl days of the 30's. I suspect it's somemore alarmist chatter in order to get us to nag congress about the farm bill, which has $800M of food stamps in it. I, for one, ain't buying it!

-2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ryan Langemeier wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

This is BS. Farming practices are much much different. No-till didnt even exist during this time. Also many of the "wetlands being plowed up didn't even have water for more than a week on wet years around us.

-2 Good Comment? | | Report
from RJ Arena wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

I'm a little more concerned with our obsession of burning our food,I.E. corn for ethanol. every year there is less corn available for feed, which drives up meat prices(yea, the PETA people like this) and processed food prices, since corn is through its' oil and sugar goes into about everything.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Savageshot wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

Nailed it on the head. as i sat watching it i couldn't help thinking the same thing. current the worst economy since the great depression and the drought is only getting worse. seems as though the worl may be putting it self back in balance

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from rock rat wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

The differences aren't mentioned. In the 30s we were a nation of mostly subsistance farmers. The dustbowl had a huge human dimension as well as ecological. Economically there are similarities with the gilded age, big banks, wall street, etc. Of course farmers back then were very Democratic, and they backed the New Deal.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from amoor983 wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

By the 1920's farmers were deep into industrial farming. Horses were traded for tractors, and plowed up a vast area unprecedented before or since, at least in North America. This is the real concern- farm bill subsidies are going to switch from direct payments to federal crop insurance. Without a conservation compliance measure there will be no incentive to not drain wetlands or plow marginal prairie. And taxpayers will be subsidizing failed crops. We need a farm bill that provides a safety net for productive land and negative consequences for failed stewardship of soil, water and wildlife.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from treelimit wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

Chad,

If you haven't already, pick up a copy of The Worst Hard Time by Tim Egan.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from wisc14 wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

too bad we couldn't pass all of the farm bill and exclude the food stamps portion which seems to be the most controversial. although i'm thinking this approach would be of just too much of common sense for todays extreme party politics

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from wisc14 wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

by excluding food stamps i mean having a separate bill up for debate, not excluding food stamps all together. i know people who really need food stamps and others who just abuse the system like any other program in this country

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Steve Clubine wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

Look at historic drought records and you will see that we are overdue for a drought of 5-8 years, not just 1-2 years since the 50s. New tillage practices may help reduce the chances of another dust bowl or the impact of monumental native sod destruction but not the impact of long term drought on the land and crop production. We are rapidly losing our national nesting cover.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Davidd wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

I think farming practices today are better than back in the 30's. I think conservation is a very important thing and there needs to be a grassroots effort. With the national debt i really think the government is going to do anything. It must start with us. On the economic end we must become better consumers and not drive ourselves into debt. We must learn the difference between a want and a need.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Davidd wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

Sorry, I mean the government will not really do anything for conservation because of the national debt.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Kenton wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

A major difference in farming pratices for years has been wide spread irrigation in the Dust Bowl region. While not all farms are irrigated, millions of acres are. So while we might not see the wind errosion and massive dust storms of the 30's we may be setting ourselves up for another disaster with the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer. Many studies indicate we are using far more water than can be recharged in to the system.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Horseapples wrote 1 year 19 weeks ago

Amoor983 is getting to the heart of the issue. With the government insuring against risks of plowing up marginal crop lands to bet on iffy crops, why wouldn't those farmers who are only profit motivated take advantage of it? True that conservation tillage is the norm today but that isn't going to protect the thin veneer of soil that seccums to numerous years of drought. The sun will bake away any organic matter and dead roots holding things together. Better off leaving deep rooted native vegetation in place that is better acclimated to these tough conditions. A reinvented farm bill is indeed necessary that holds accountable those who benefit from the subsidies and insurance securities.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from amoor983 wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

By the 1920's farmers were deep into industrial farming. Horses were traded for tractors, and plowed up a vast area unprecedented before or since, at least in North America. This is the real concern- farm bill subsidies are going to switch from direct payments to federal crop insurance. Without a conservation compliance measure there will be no incentive to not drain wetlands or plow marginal prairie. And taxpayers will be subsidizing failed crops. We need a farm bill that provides a safety net for productive land and negative consequences for failed stewardship of soil, water and wildlife.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from RJ Arena wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

I'm a little more concerned with our obsession of burning our food,I.E. corn for ethanol. every year there is less corn available for feed, which drives up meat prices(yea, the PETA people like this) and processed food prices, since corn is through its' oil and sugar goes into about everything.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Davidd wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

I think farming practices today are better than back in the 30's. I think conservation is a very important thing and there needs to be a grassroots effort. With the national debt i really think the government is going to do anything. It must start with us. On the economic end we must become better consumers and not drive ourselves into debt. We must learn the difference between a want and a need.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from rock rat wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

The differences aren't mentioned. In the 30s we were a nation of mostly subsistance farmers. The dustbowl had a huge human dimension as well as ecological. Economically there are similarities with the gilded age, big banks, wall street, etc. Of course farmers back then were very Democratic, and they backed the New Deal.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from treelimit wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

Chad,

If you haven't already, pick up a copy of The Worst Hard Time by Tim Egan.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from wisc14 wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

too bad we couldn't pass all of the farm bill and exclude the food stamps portion which seems to be the most controversial. although i'm thinking this approach would be of just too much of common sense for todays extreme party politics

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from wisc14 wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

by excluding food stamps i mean having a separate bill up for debate, not excluding food stamps all together. i know people who really need food stamps and others who just abuse the system like any other program in this country

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Steve Clubine wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

Look at historic drought records and you will see that we are overdue for a drought of 5-8 years, not just 1-2 years since the 50s. New tillage practices may help reduce the chances of another dust bowl or the impact of monumental native sod destruction but not the impact of long term drought on the land and crop production. We are rapidly losing our national nesting cover.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Kenton wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

A major difference in farming pratices for years has been wide spread irrigation in the Dust Bowl region. While not all farms are irrigated, millions of acres are. So while we might not see the wind errosion and massive dust storms of the 30's we may be setting ourselves up for another disaster with the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer. Many studies indicate we are using far more water than can be recharged in to the system.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Savageshot wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

Nailed it on the head. as i sat watching it i couldn't help thinking the same thing. current the worst economy since the great depression and the drought is only getting worse. seems as though the worl may be putting it self back in balance

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Davidd wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

Sorry, I mean the government will not really do anything for conservation because of the national debt.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Horseapples wrote 1 year 19 weeks ago

Amoor983 is getting to the heart of the issue. With the government insuring against risks of plowing up marginal crop lands to bet on iffy crops, why wouldn't those farmers who are only profit motivated take advantage of it? True that conservation tillage is the norm today but that isn't going to protect the thin veneer of soil that seccums to numerous years of drought. The sun will bake away any organic matter and dead roots holding things together. Better off leaving deep rooted native vegetation in place that is better acclimated to these tough conditions. A reinvented farm bill is indeed necessary that holds accountable those who benefit from the subsidies and insurance securities.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from labrador12 wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

So CO2 levels have doodly squat to do with drought conditions and temps? The thirties and today are not compareable because it was much warmer then even though the CO2 levels were much lower. I agree Chad. The thirties sucked, let's hope that the weather isn't as bad in the next few years as it was then.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Gsquare wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

It's a little farfetched to equate the present 1 (someplaces 2) year drought to the dustbowl days of the 30's. I suspect it's somemore alarmist chatter in order to get us to nag congress about the farm bill, which has $800M of food stamps in it. I, for one, ain't buying it!

-2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ryan Langemeier wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

This is BS. Farming practices are much much different. No-till didnt even exist during this time. Also many of the "wetlands being plowed up didn't even have water for more than a week on wet years around us.

-2 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

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