During the drought that struck the United States from 1934 to 1937, the soil became so badly eroded that static electricity built up on the farmlands of the Great Plains, pulling dust into the sky like a magnet. Massive clouds of dust rose up to 10,000 feet and, powered by high-altitude winds, was pushed as far east as New York City.
When the “black blizzard” hit Washington, D.C. in May 1934, Hugh Hammond Bennett — the “father of soil conservation” — was testifying before a congressional committee about the effects of soil erosion. Bennett’s testimony lead Congress to unanimously pass legislation declaring soil and water conservation a national policy and priority.
But fixing soil erosion was not something the government could do on its own. As the National Association of Conservation Districts explains, “Because nearly three-fourths of the continental United States is privately owned, Congress realized that only active, voluntary support from landowners would guarantee the success of conservation work on private land. In 1937, President Roosevelt wrote the governors of all the states recommending legislation that would allow local landowners to form soil conservation districts.”