Civilian Conservation Corps’ Rocky Road in Louisiana

by Patty Matteson, SRS Science Delivery Group

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers dig a channel to drain agricultural fields. Photo courtesy of USDA Forest Service.

A recent Southern Research Station (SRS) publication, The Work of the Civilian Conservation Corps: Pioneering Conservation in Louisiana by SRS emeritus scientist James P. Barnett and Louisiana State University library director Anna C. Burns provides a vivid account of the history, projects, and people involved in the New Deal program.   

While most states were benefitting from the passage of President Roosevelts New Deal—a series of economic programs enacted during the Great Depression, Louisiana was not. This was due to political opposition, mostly from Louisiana Senator Huey P. Long, who opposed elements of the New Deal program and in particular the creation and use of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a work relief program designed to provide jobs to young unmarried men. Most of the CCC’s work was focused on improving the country’s natural resources. The CCC is credited with building more than 125,000 miles of roads and trails, constructing over 6 million erosion control structures and planting nearly 3 billion trees.

In dramatic fashion on the Senate floor, Long called the CCC “the sapling bill” and pledged to “eat every one of them [trees] that come up in my state.” Even after Long was assassinated in September 1935, Louisiana politicians were slow to embrace the program.  However, the people of Louisiana saw how well the program was working in other states and rallied around the creation and support of the New Deal and in particular the CCC. 

CCC enrollees thinning pine seedlings in a Forest Service nursery bed. Photo courtesy of the USDA Forest Service.

The impacts on the development of forest research and reforestation in Louisiana and throughout the Nation by the CCC were vast. While a few of the forests created were only used during the CCC period to help with the reforestation effort, the experimental forests that remain from that era help weave an intricate network of research forests throughout the nation. In central Louisiana, CCC support helped establish the Palustris Experimental Forest and the Stuart Nursery, with the former providing the location to conduct research for reforestation efforts, while the latter supplied the seedlings.  More than 165 million trees were grown at nurseries like the Stuart and planted throughout the state.   

“The Stuart Nursery and the work by Southern Station scientists not only assisted Louisiana in in its reforestation efforts,” said Barnett. “The technology developed there was used to reforest the Souths cutover lands after WWII ended.” 

The collection of oral histories and documents on the CCC gathered by Burns is located at the Southern Forest Heritage Museum and Research Center in Long Leaf, Louisiana. Burns and Barnett created this report to promote the collection and to showcase the work of the CCC in Louisiana.

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