“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
March 4 is an auspicious date in Wisconsin history and not just because it marks the inauguration of this blog. It is also important because on this date in 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated for his first term as President of the United States. Historians debate how effective Roosevelt’s New Deal policies were at ending the Great Depression but there is little doubt that they changed the political, social, economic and physical landscape of the nation.
The legacy of the New Deal is large in our state–too large to cover in one or one hundred postings. Two easy-to-spot examples stand out. The farm fields artfully shaped to follow the contours of the Driftless Area hills in southwest Wisconsin were designed to keep the soil on the slopes and out of the once pristine rivers and streams. The practice was introduced in the Coon Creek Valley of La Crosse and Vernon counties in 1933, when it was the site of a pilot project for the New Deal’s fledgling Soil Erosion Service and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Lessons learned here were applied to hills and dales throughout the country. As they conserve the soil and as aerial photos reveal, the contours make art of the landscape.
As winter melts away this month, we’ll see the results of another New Deal program in the skies overhead. The vast state and federal wildlife reserves that range across the state from the Mississippi River to central Wisconsin and east to Horicon and Lake Michigan will welcome waterfowl returning north to nest. Nearly all of the refuges were established during the New Deal.
In the last few years, the redwing blackbirds, Canada geese, and Sandhill cranes have been joined by a handful of whooping cranes. They are the focus of a national effort to restore the nearly-extinct Midwestern population of whoopers that includes the much-publicized autumn flight of the birds to Florida guided by a pilot in an ultralight airplane.
The whooping cranes and millions of other birds spend the warm weather nesting season at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge and adjacent state-owned conservation areas–all legacies of the New Deal that began on March 4, 1933.