Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Joseph E., III Taylor

Second Advisor

Pamela Riney-Kehrberg


In the past two centuries Americans have transformed the Great Plains. Farmers, politicians, scientists, and the state constructed and reconstructed the Plains to support their visions of a sustainable society. They transformed the region into a social and ecological space inextricably linked to the beliefs, agendas, and polices that have reshaped it. The new landscape blurred the social and the natural making these categories impossible to separate. The greatest task soil conservation on the Great Plains faces today is recognizing the hybrid space for what it is: a socially-constructed landscape, a conservation landscape.;This thesis traces the development of a conservation landscape on the Great Plains from the mid-1900s through the 1970s. During the nineteenth-century Americans argued the status of the Great Plains as Desert or Garden, and developed programs to alter the environment through tree planting. From Arbor Day to Timber Culture Act, early foresters combined private initiative with public subsidy to encourage tree planting and environmental transformation. At the start of the twentieth-century the Forest Service institutionalized tree planting for conservation by creating the Kansas, Nebraska, and Dakota forest reserves. Although foresters had great difficulty growing trees on the reserves, they continued developing methods and rationales for further planting. Foresters also increasingly found their methods and goals shaped by the emerging profession of forestry.;The drought of the 1930s brought a new round of intervention. President Franklin Roosevelt and the Forest Service proposed dividing the nation with a Great American Wall of trees. The Shelterbelt Project sparked debate over the Great Plain's future, the relation of trees to climate, and the status of forestry as a profession. Foresters hoped to reengineer the mistakes of nature, culture, and history, but in moving from plan to practice foresters found that planning and science had not escaped culture or history, but were instead intimately bound together. By the early 1940s, agronomy and the Soil Conservation Service emerged victorious as the dominant approach to managing Plains landscapes. However, as with previous efforts to control the conservation landscape, the SCS's approach was shaped by institutional, professional, and political goals.



Digital Repository @ Iowa State University,

Copyright Owner

Joel Jason Orth



Proquest ID


File Format


File Size

383 pages