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Civilian Conservation Corps Accomplishments: 1939



Robert Fechner
Director, The Civilian Conservation Corps

President Franklin Roosevelt Visits a CCC Camp
President Franklin Roosevelt Visits a CCC Camp
L-R: Maj. Gen. Paul B. Malone; Col. Louis Howe, Secretary to President; Harold L. Ickes, Secretary of Interior; Robert Fechner, Director Emergency Conservation Work; FDR; Henry A. Wallace, Secretary of Agriculture; Rexford Tugwell, Administrator of Resettlement Administration.”

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in American Forests: The Magazine of The American Forestry Association, Washington, D. C. (January, 1939). The photographs were added for informational purposes.

FOR five and a half years, a Legion of Youth, the Civilian Conservation Corps, has been charting a new conservation course for Uncle Sam, a course that provides for the gradual upbuilding of our natural resources of timber and soil. As a result, the nation is moving toward an admittedly distant goal of a balanced natural resources budget.

Under the competent supervision of trained foresters and technicians of federal and state departments and agencies dealing with conservation matters, some two million young men, together with a sprinkling of war veterans and Indians, have been laboring since the spring of 1933 on a wide variety of conservation projects. They have planted new forests on unproductive lands, strengthened forest and park protection systems to reduce forest devastation by forest fires, insects and disease, built new recreational facilities to improve the civic usefulness of our parks and forests and initiated and advanced a huge scale program for demonstrating practical erosion control measures to farmers.

Altogether, some 4,500 CCC camps of 200 men each have been established in national, state and private forests, on the public domain and on wildlife refuges in various parts of the country. At the present time more than 1,500 camps, including those on Indian reservations and in Alaska, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Hawaii, are in operation. Out of these camps each day go some 300,000 enrollees to plant trees, build truck trails, erect fire detection towers, lay telephone lines, improve grazing conditions in national forests and on the public domain, rehabilitate reclamation projects in the west and drainage ditches on farm lands, build check dams and plant quick growing trees and vegetation to protect private farm lands from soil wastage, to conserve water and prevent floods, to conduct campaigns against the white pine blister rust, the gypsy moth, bark beetles and rodents, to improve living conditions for wildlife and to do a host of other jobs related in a greater or lesser degree to the national task of conserving and rebuilding America’s natural resources wealth.

The records in my office indicate that the 2,300,000 enrollees who have left their homes to work for from a few months to two years in the healthful outdoor atmosphere of the CCC camps have labored on some 150 different types of work. Operating under regulations and policies initiated or approved by the office of the director, the War Department has enrolled the men after they had been selected by the Department of Labor and the Veterans’ Administration, constructed the camps, transported the men to and from projects, paid enrollees, clothed and fed them and looked after their welfare. The cost of maintaining a boy in a CCC camp this year, with all costs charged against the enrollee, is about $1,000. Next year it will be a little larger, as new camps will have to be built. Altogether about two billion dollars has been expended on the CCC program, about twenty-three per cent going home to the parents of enrollees in the form of relief.

CCC workers planting trees
CCC workers planting trees

No attempt has been made to turn the camps into formal schools. We do everything we can to fit enrollees for a useful life but the CCC is a work centered organization and not a substitute for high schools and colleges. It is, however, a practical school where young men in their teens and early twenties are taught how to work, how to live and how to get ahead. In the camps enrollees learn the fundamentals of good citizenship while acquiring work experience and practical skills. One of the fundamentals of the CCC program is that enrollees put in a full five day, forty hour week whenever climatic conditions permit. This is done in the belief that the work discipline and training acquired by enrollees on the job and through the normal routine of orderly camp living represents the best training and preparation for useful citizenship that we can offer. Every effort is made to improve the physical condition of enrollees so that they will leave the camp with sound physiques. Good food, medical care, comfortable clothing and instruction in sanitation and personal hygiene are furnished all enrollees.

In camp enrollees follow a daily regime which includes regular hours for sleeping, eating, working, recreation, as well as a reasonable time for study and personal advancement. Academic courses and vocational training in a more limited degree are provided in all camps. Illiterates are taught to read and write. Backward enrollees are grounded in the three “r’s.”

So much for the broad outline of the CCC program to date. It is my opinion that sufficient time has now elapsed for the average citizen to pass judgment upon the usefulness of the Corps, both as a force for conserving our natural resources and as a builder of vigorous young manhood.

As director of the Corps, I have watched it grow from an experimental question mark into a sound, well-knit operating organization which takes pride in the fact that it gives the taxpayer a full return for every cent spent. There is no doubt but that the four cooperating departments–War, Interior, Agriculture and Labor–have done a splendid job.

But notwithstanding the fact that the Corps has been and continues to be popular with the general public, the question arises as to whether steps cannot be taken which will improve our work output and the service rendered youth and the nation. Some students of the CCC program have suggested that more time be devoted to enrollee education and training. Some have felt that the Corps costs too much. The question also has arisen as to whether the Corps was not departing too much from its original work objectives.

Before discussing possible changes in future work programs, I want to go on record as stating that in my opinion no phase of the CCC program is more important than our relationship with youth. I am hopeful that as time

Planting an Elm tree at Camp Euclid, Ohio National Archives and Records Administration
Planting an Elm tree at Camp Euclid, Ohio
National Archives and Records Administration

passes we can do even more than we are doing today to assist youth to become self-supporting. I am not a believer in coddling youngsters and so long as I am director I intend to do everything I can to help young men develop self-reliance and pride in their ability to make their own way in the world. I want enrollees to have every possible educational and training opportunity that can be given them without sacrificing the CCC work program. I have never been in favor of shortening the work week of forty hours to provide additional time for schooling, as I believe young men obtaining their first work experience should learn at the beginning that they must do an honest day’s work and do it every day when they are employed if they are to be worth their salt. I take genuine pride in the fact that employers uniformly report that former enrollees have the right attitude toward work.

We have been making a thorough study of the CCC educational system this last year. We are improving the education and training set-up from the top down, developing improved training and instructional courses, closely scrutinizing the results being obtained and developing a system which will make certain that education and training facilities in each camp are used to the utmost. I am hopeful that at the end of this year I can report that each enrollee received ten hours of general and vocational instruction each week.

CCC Poster
CCC Poster

Our records show we have spent about two billion dollars on the CCC. Although I do not consider CCC costs have been high when viewed in the light of the Corps’ accomplishments, pressure is being exerted at every point to reduce CCC expenditures. I hope it will be possible through consolidation of motor repair units, the operation of salvage and reclamation depots similar to the one operated by the Army at Columbus, Ohio, and a general tightening up of the CCC administrative and operating machine, to reduce costs still lower. A reduction in enrollee turnover between enrollment periods, except when men leave to accept employment, would help. In this connection it is interesting to know that some 450,000 enrollees have left to accept jobs prior to completing their terms of enrollment.

On one point, however, the CCC cannot afford to economize too far. I refer to the expenditure of funds for careful supervision and guidance of camp work projects. The fact that all CCC work has been carefully supervised has added to CCC costs, but it has been worth it. The Corps seeks to give enrollees the best possible leadership and the best technical direction. High class, experienced reserve officers in charge of camps mean better leadership for the enrollees, better camp morale, better food, fewer desertions and disciplinary discharges and a better all around camp atmosphere. Carefully trained and experienced project superintendents and foremen mean carefully planned work programs, a higher work output and better trained enrollees. Seasoned and able camp educational advisers mean that camp educational programs will be simple and practical and well organized.

The CCC’s health program has been outstandingly successful. Without exception, Corps area commanding officers have acted vigorously to safeguard the health of enrollees and build them up physically. In some Corps areas, physical training has been made a regular rather than an optional feature of daily camp life. While undoubtedly enrollees get plenty of exercise, the physical drills have been helpful in improving posture and in developing coordination of mind and muscle. Perhaps it would be a good thing if physical training were provided in all camps.

Adoption of a first class distinctive uniform which enrollees could wear when not at work would be a good thing for the Corps. It would undoubtedly build up morale and improve the appearance of the enrollees. I hope it will be possible to give the CCC a uniform before a not too distant date.

Before expressing my hopes for the future in the field of conservation, let me present a few figures on work accomplishments. Our records compiled from camp figures by the Bureau of the Census show that the national reforestation program has been advanced by the planting of more than 1,501,662,800 forest tree seedlings on 1,501,663 acres of bare, barren or unproductive land; by improving forest stands on 3,115,534 acres and by campaigns against tree diseases, such as the white pine blister rust, and tree-attacking insects on 17,279,975 acres.

Forest fire protection systems have been strengthened in public forests and parks and adjacent areas by the construction of 98,444 miles of truck trails and minor roads, the building of 66,161 miles of telephone lines, reduction of fire hazards along 65,576 miles of roads and trails, the erection of more than 3,459 fire lookout houses and towers, and the construction of 41,303 bridges and 45,350 buildings of various types.

The presence of enrollees in the forests has furnished the nation a first class forest fire-fighting patrol during fire seasons with the result that millions of acres of forest and park land have been saved from fire damage. Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees have expended 7,930,912 man-days on forest fire-fighting duty or on fire prevention or fire pre-suppression work.

It has furnished men and material for the initiation and advancement of a nation-wide erosion control program. Since the spring of 1934 the Corps has constructed 4,132,660 check dams and planted 175,886,495 quick-growing type trees on eroded farm areas.

It has opened up recreational opportunities in the nation’s forests and parks for millions by stimulating new state park development projects, by improving and developing recreational facilities in national and state parks, and in other areas.

It has aroused national interest in wildlife conservation by furnishing men and funds for acquisition and development of a chain of wildlife refuges, by improving conditions for fishing and by stimulating federal and state agencies to greater wildlife conservation activity. In this connection, the CCC has built 4,105 fish-rearing pools, expanded national and state fish hatchery facilities, improved more than 6,207 miles of streams, stocked lakes, ponds and streams with 636,447,728 fingerlings and young fish and conducted rodent control operations over 30,774,049 acres.

In reviewing the past five years of the Corps, and looking into its future, it is well to recall its original purpose and scope. The original CCC Act of March 31, 1933, sets up pretty clearly the two main purposes of the Corps, unemployment relief and “restoration of the country’s depleted natural resources.” Later wording amplifies the first statement and refers to “forestation” of federal and state “lands suitable for timber production, protection or prevention of forest fires, floods and soil erosion, insect and fungous attacks, and the construction, maintenance and repair of paths, trails and fire lanes within national forests and parks.”

The Act of June 28, 1937, sets up three objectives of great importance–to provide employment, to provide vocational training and to perform “useful public work in connection with the conservation and development of the natural resources of the United States.”

First, let me emphasize that the providing of jobs for unemployed youth is equally but no more important than the doing of needed conservation work. Secondly, that the two CCC Acts both emphasize that the work program is to be conservation of natural resources.

But back of these Congressional Acts, before even the original Act was passed on March 31, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt expressed himself very clearly on what he had in mind as to the CCC, its purpose, scope and work. In his message of March 21, 1933, to the Congress, he said in part:

“I propose to create a civilian conservation corps to be used in simple work, not interfering with normal employment, and confining itself to forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, flood control and similar projects.”

Since the first camps were established on national forests and national parks, we have departed in some measure from that original program of objectives–“forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, flood control and similar projects.” In addition to forestation and erosion work, the Corps has done a vast amount of recreational work. It has developed parks in states, counties, municipalities and other areas set aside by federal or local agencies for recreational use. It is not too much to say that the CCC put the now flourishing state park system on its feet.

But has it done enough of tree planting? Has it concentrated enough on work which will conserve water and soil and prevent floods? Have enough men been assigned to blister rust control and on campaigns to reduce damages caused by insects such as the bark beetle? I believe that the work we have done to develop our national parks and state parks and related areas has been more than justified by the avenues of outdoor enjoyment which we have made available to the public and that we should continue our recreational work on a scale commensurate with public need. At the same time, I think the time has come when it would be well to give consideration to the placing of even greater emphasis than we have in the past upon the planting of trees and other reforestation work, the control of erosion, upstream engineering and the protection and improvement of national parks and monuments.

Projects for which adult unemployed labor is available or for which adult labor is better suited normally should not be done with CCC labor. This means that the use of the CCC in or near towns or cities, or on large engineering structures where either the adult unemployed or contract labor can be properly used, should not ordinarily be undertaken by the Corps. The CCC is a young, unskilled, mobile force which can be employed to advantage in regions remote from cities or labor centers. There have been complaints on the ground that the CCC youths have deprived locally available adult labor of jobs in different parts of the country. Greater care should be taken to avoid approval of projects requiring a large amount of annual maintenance to keep them usable. In this connection, state and local organizations should refrain from recommending work projects which they are unprepared to maintain in a usable condition after the CCC camp completes its work.

Before listing some of the types of conservation work which I believe should be stressed in the future, I venture the hope that both federal and state conservation organizations will concentrate on the working out of long-range programs for the conservation and use of natural resource wealth so that the CCC work programs can be maintained at their present high standard. I hope that state and federal officials will work out comprehensive programs for development work in each state so that every bit of work done by the CCC will be of maximum value to the state and to the general public. I would like to see a national program, with major types of project shown, covering conservation work that should be done over the nest five or ten years. If such a master plan is available, I have not seen it. In my own opinion, major types of work upon which the CCC should concentrate, are:

(1) Forest Protection. Forests in federal, state and private ownership and federal and state parks must continue to be protected from fire, insects and fungi.

(2) Reforestation. There are some 138 millions of acres of barren, denuded, abandoned forest and sub-marginal lands in this country. These should be made productive by growing forests, whether in national park or forest or in state forest or park. The CCC has not done enough tree planting. A program calling for the planting each year of 500,000,000 trees would not be too ambitious.

(3) Flood Control. The “upstream engineering” part of the national flood control job entrusted to Army engineers and the Department of Agriculture by Congress under the Flood Control Act of 1936 is admirably suited for the CCC to perform. This work is not suited for contract labor, as it consists of many small jobs and is in remote or isolated locations where the Corps can function to good advantage. The CCC should be definitely in this program.

(4) Soil Conservation. The saving of our fertile soils and the building up of depleted soils are basic to our future as a nation wherever these lands lie. Here is a splendid job for the Corps to continue.

(5) Development of Recreation Resources. The population of the country is growing and public appreciation of outdoor recreational facilities is mounting. I feel this work should be continued where needed. As public use and enjoyment of our wooded areas increases, public interest in our conservation stake will rise.

(6) Wildlife Restoration. Many years of restoration work yet remains to be done on federal forests and parks and in federal and state game refuges and sanctuaries.

Note: Reprinted from AMERICAN FORESTS: The Magazine of The American Forestry Association, Washington, D. C. (January, 1939). Permission granted by American Forests, 1998.

Source: New Deal Network: An article by Robert Fechner, Director, The Civilian Conservation Corps:


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