The US solved the "dust bowl" of the 1930s by teaching farmers soil conservation techniques and working with landowners to plant 220 million trees from Texas to Canada. But in recent decades the "shelterbelts" have been forgotten and neglected, and the dust is starting to return.

Passage of the 1937 Norris-Doxey Cooperative Forestry Act included shelterbelts as part of a nationwide forestry program. But Congress fought FDR’s desire to emphasize tree planting in the Great Plains into the 1940s. Meanwhile, shelterbelts in the six Great Plains states grew in popularity. ... ... The program worked, and evolving policy emphasized public-private partnerships over federal land acquisition. In 1942, the Soil Conservation Service took the shelterbelt program from the Forest Service and emphasized a county- and farm-level program over a regional approach. ... ... According to Drozer’s Trees, Prairies and People, the shelterbelt program was widely successful. More widespread use of pivot irrigation and other farm technology that required larger fields, especially after the 1960s—along with federal farm policy that ultimately encouraged larger farms after the early 1970s—slowed and then reversed Great Plains tree planting. Many shelterbelts have been left to deteriorate, and many miles of tree lines have been cut and burned to make room for additional cropland. ... ... Recent dust storms have raised concerns about the Great Plains. Experts claim farming practices are much improved over the 1920s and 1930s, but the loss of shelterbelts, uneven weather patterns and declining underground water levels challenge efforts to improve cropping, crops and soil health. ... ... Time has lessened appreciation for FDR’s shelterbelts. Windbreak removal represents a disinvestment in a proven conservation practice with the hope that new technologies will counter harsh conditions that increase agricultural risk in a time of short-term drought and longer-run climate change. ... ... Rejection of a gift from an earlier generation is at best problematic, and at worst, an invitation to a future disaster.