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Integrated Management of the Greater Prairie Chicken and Livestock on the Sheyenne National Grassland

Cultural History


Late in the 19th century, most of the plains regions were settled by persons accustomed to agriculture conditions prevailing in the more moderate climatic areas in the eastern and midwestern United States and Europe. Limited to a land base of 160 acres under terms of the Homestead Act of 1862, which provided for acquisiton of land by individuals who would live on it, the settlers attempted intensive agriculture rather than rangeland livestock grazing pursuits. The native vegetative cover was destroyed, exposing the soil to the continuous and often strong wind. In the early years moisture conditions were favorable and agricultural efforts met with some success. However, the changing economic situation, coupled with drought and increasing topsoil loss due to wind erosion, made it more and more difficult for the small agricultural units to succeed, or even survive. By the end of the second decade of the 20th century the onset of widespread economic depression as well as an intense drought cycle brought disaster to the small farming efforts in much of the Midwest.

Relief measures for disastrous farming conditions of the 1930's which were initiated by the Federal Government included, the National Recovery Act of 1933, the Emergency Relief Act of 1935, and the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenancy Act of 1937. Nearly 10 million acres of drought-stricken and wind-eroded land were purchased by the Federal Government under these programs, and nearly 24,000 families relocated. The preamble of the Bankhead-Jones Act reads: "An Act to create the Farmers Home Corporation. To promote more secure occupancy of farms and farm homes, to correct the economic instability from some present forms of farm tenancy, and for other purposes."

The purposes of the Bankhead-Jones Act, Title III, were stated in broad terms in Section 31 of the Act (7 U.S.C. 1010): "The Secretary is authorized and directed to develop a program of land conservation and land utilization, including the retirement of lands which are submarginal or not primarily suitable for cultivation, in order thereby to correct maladjustments in land use, and thus assist in controlling soil erosion, reforestation, preserving natural resources, mitigating floods, preventing impairment of dams and reservoirs, conserving surface and subsurface moisture, protecting the watersheds of navigable streams, and protecting the public lands, health, safety and welfare, but not to build industrial parks or establish private industrial or commercial enterprises."

This gave the Secretary of Agriculture broad general authority to develop a program for the retirement, rehabilitation, and use of submarginal and other lands not primarily suitable for cultivation. Section 32 of the Act itemized certain specific authorities of the Secretary of Agriculture to execute the broad program of Title III (see Appendix 1).

In 1938, the lands purchased were administratively organized as Land Utilization Projects under the management of the Soil Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Significant progress was made on soil stabilization and revegetation. Fences, water developments and other range improvements were undertaken. Ranchers and farmers formed cooperative grazing associations to gain use of the restored lands by grazing livestock at agreed upon levels (Alt 1988).

In 1954, as part of a consolidation of land management activities in the Department of Agriculture, a review of Land Utilization Projects was made to determine their best use. Certain lands most suitable for specialized uses were transferred to States and non-Federal agencies. Others were recommended for retention in Federal ownership as part of a wide range of Federal conservation programs. Thirteen primarily forested areas were given National Forest status. Some lands in Montana, California, Texas and Utah were transferred to the Department of the Interior for administration in conjunction with grazing units administered by that department. The remaining areas were transferred to the administrative jurisdiction of the Forest Service. These lands, including extensive former "dust bowl" lands in the western Great Plains, were officially designated National Grasslands on 23 June 1960. The National Grasslands, comprising about 3.8 million acres, included the Pawnee and Comanchee National Grasslands in Colorado; the Curlew in Idaho; Cimarron in Kansas; Ogallala in Nebraska; Kiowa in New Mexico; the Rita Blanca I Oklahoma and Texas; the Black Kettle of Oklahoma; Crooked River in Oregon; Buffalo Gap, Grand River and Fort Pierre in South Dakota; the Cross Timbers, Rita Blanca, Caddo, and McClellan Creek in Texas; Thunder Basin in Wyoming and the Cedar River, and Little Missouri and Sheyenne in North Dakota. Those lands, according to the Regulations, are to be permanently held by the Department of Agriculture for administration under the provisions and purposes of Title III of the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act. They are to be administered under "sound and progressive principles of land conservation and multiple use, and to promote development of grassland agriculture and sustained yield management."


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