A Primer of Conservation
Originally written by Louis Bromfield, November 1942
Condensed and paraphrased in 2013 by Siera Marth

“This other war, the war upon destruction of natural assets is one that will never be finished. Our  weakness in this vast war is largely ignorance, that most of our citizens do not realize what is going on under their very feet.”

-Louis Bromfield

What is Conservation?

In its richest terms, conservation means the preservation and resoration of our soil, the husbandry, control and augmentation of our water supply, the preservation and restoration of our forest. But, in its simplest terms it means saving each of these things from our own destructive ways. Although as far back as 1900, when Theodore Roosevelt recognized the need for conservation, it is still a matter that is of high discussion today!

Soil, water and forests are the foundation not only of our national economy but of our very existence and civilization.”

-Louis Bromfield

Foundation of Civilization

If conservation is not taken seriously and put into practice here in the United States, we could fall in to similar situations like those in China, Modern India, Babylon, Assyria, and other cities that followed them. China, one of the oldest nations’ decline lies at the root of soil and water destruction. There is no longer enough soil to grow even the toughest weeds. Another great city, Mesopotamia, once being credited as the original Garden of Eden because of its ancient fertility is nothing more than a desert.

“Here in America the hour is already much later than we think.”

-Louis Bromfield

In 1942, when Bromfield wrote “A Primer of Conservation” he had divided the land in America into fourths. One fourth had already been destroyed and another fourth was already half way to deadliness. A third fourth, because of its topography was progressing more slowly along the same path. The last fourth was largely undesirable for agriculture or pasture anyway, but makes very beautiful scenery.

“The basis of all civilization, of all economic stability lies in the natural resources of a country.”

-Louis Bromfield

The most important of resources, is soil. Soil is the basis for which feeds and clothes our citizens and it keeps our economy thriving. Without the survival of soil, other industries begin to decline. Soil, is the basic income for banking, industry, insurance and other businesses. At one time, if a family could not make their farm run, they became a liability rather than an asset. Instead of fueling the economy, they would bog it down. Even as our world today grows and develops with technology and discoveries, the same principle applies. Imagine your favorite cotton t-shirt, you wear it all the time and the edges are beginning to fray a little and holes are appearing in the armpits. Now imagine that due to soil depletion, we can no longer grow cotton to produce t-shirts just like yours.

What Water Means to Us

Just as the cities of China and Mesopotamia were once fertile, it is possible that our fertile country is well on its way to a desert-like state. While there is no less rainfall in the United States than there was hundreds of years ago, there seems to be a growing water shortage. Not only does this affect agriculture, but also industry located in cities. Bromfield presents the example of steel mills in Youngstown, Ohio in 1941; it was near closing because there was no water. Almost exactly one year later it was near closing due to flooding; flooding caused by heavy rainfall and poor soil profiles.

Rain falls the same way as it always has, but because forests and sod have been destroyed and the land is poorly farmed, only about twenty to forty percent of the water remains. What happens to the rest? It sweeps away into rivers and to oceans almost immediately, taking with it tons of precious top soil.

What We Can Do About It

“The problem of soil and water conservation is our gravest and most fundamental national problem.”

“It is the duty of every citizen, for his own welfare, if for no other patriotic reason, to support and fight for and possibly initiate measures having to do with conservation of soil, water and forests.”

-Louis Bromfield

There are tried and true methods to save our soil, conserve our supply of water, prevent floods, and devastating effects of droughts. Some of these methods include reforestation, contour plowing, terracing, and strip planting.

You may also contact your local Water and Soil conservation service, extension office, or state department of agriculture or natural resources.

“Our prosperity, our high standard of living, our very liberties will disappear as they have disappeared in other countries all over the world when soil was washed away and there was no longer any adequate supply of water. The hour is already much later than we think.

-Louis Bromfield