Michigan’s Civilian Conservation Corps. Impact on the Environment

Northern Michigan is filled with forests, and when you see patches of red pine trees in perfect rows, they didn’t just appear. It’s because of the hard work by young men about 90 years ago that helped shape Northern Michigan’s landscape.

“All the work they did put the forest like 50 years ahead,” said Hillary Pine, Northern Lower Peninsula Historian of Michigan History Center & DNR.

It all started in 1933 when President Franklin D Roosevelt enacted the civilian conservation corps as part of the new deal.

“It’s a system of camps run by the War Department, and you have to be on government assistance. You have to be a certain age, and you have to be single,” said Pine.

Michigan had about 125 CCC camps, more than most states.

“That really speaks to the conservation need here in Michigan, mostly because of the logging era. Our forest had been depleted; our streams were destroyed,” said Pine.

Each camp had about 200 men ranging in age from 17 to 23.

Their goal was to fix what was destroyed by stocking fish, fighting forest fires and planting trees.

“A lot of these are city boys. They’ve never fought a forest fire. They’ve never planted trees. So, they get into some tough situations. A lot of it’s a lot harder than they expected it to be,” said Pine.

Each day the young men were expected to plant 1,000 tree seedlings.

“It’s very methodical. They were taught you take your three steps. You use your planting bar, dig your whole, put the tree, close the hole in, take three steps, and do it again. Quick, quick, quick,” said Pine.

Making what we see today, these perfect rows of red pine trees.

“Our forests throughout the state would look a lot different today in 2022 if it hadn’t been for season CCC forestation in the thirties,” said Matt Liesch, Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Central Michigan University.

“The CCC has this really important legacy, and it is so important for us as Michiganders. We’re in this state that we enjoy our forests and our outdoor resources. And most of that is directly linked to the work the CCC did,” said Liesch.

The CCC legacy goes beyond what you see. Their work influences conservation efforts to this day.

“It’s fostered a spirit of conservation that was already existing before the 20th century, but it amplified this conservation effort and made it more mainstream,” said Liesch. “Conversations about how we interact with the environment impact the environment, how the environment influences us. Those conversations are useful when we’re trying to tackle complex issues such as climate change, as far as habitat loss and other things.”

Its estimated 484 million trees were planted through Michigan’s Civilian Conservation Corps. The most in any state.

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