If you have a family tree with roots in the Plain States, then chances are you were raised on stories of the Dust Bowl. It was a time when thousands of families in the midwest packed up and moved to California, fleeing epic clouds of dust that covered everything in sight. The drought of the 1930s, combined with the economic drought of the Great Depression, created one of the greatest disasters in American history. And with recent droughts in Texas and Kansas, as well as the devastating drought out California’s way, some Americans are wondering if we could ever suffer a repeat of that terrible disaster.
So could the Dust Bowl happen again? Meteorologists and other experts mostly agree that the answer is a hard “No,” at least not on the same scale. That’s because the Dust Bowl wasn’t a true natural disaster. Although Mother Nature supplied the drought, it was reckless soil management that created the conditions that led to the Dust Bowl. And Americans learned a lot of hard lessons during those years, which is why Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Soil Conservation Service (today, the Natural Resources Conservation Service) to help protect widespread erosion of topsoil.
“Considering the Dust Bowl was a combination of human action with natural conditions, I think it will be a long time before we see another one,” meteorologist Nick Wiltgen told Weather.com in 2013. “It would take a fairly dramatic shift in the way land is managed in this country — or an extraordinarily severe and prolonged drought.”
And while California is currently experiencing a major drought, it’s nowhere near the catastrophic conditions he’s describing. And remember: Texas suffered a major drought several years ago, but has recently been coping with flooding. Plus, one of the major causes of the Dust Bowl was the elimination of native prairie grasses, but today vast stretches of U.S. land are covered in grass for grazing animals. In fact, such ranches and pastures make up more than 27% of all private land use in the United States, more than the 21% covered by forests and the 18% used for farm land and farm land for sale. And those countless acres of cattle ranches and equestrian property in California, Texas, the Plain States, and beyond help ensure we won’t suffer a repeat of the Dust Bowl.
As of January 1, 2015, there were an estimated 89.9 million head of cattle and calves in the United States, meaning we’ll need more grazing ranches for sale than ever before in the years to come. And that means properly managed grassy land from sea to shining sea. Still, it’s important to reckon with big questions like, “Could the Dust Bowl happen again?” That’s because the ever-expanding global population will demand a 70% increase in food production by 2050, and so proper soil management will be more important than ever.
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