Trees as technology: Planting shelterbelts on the Great Plains

Robert Gardner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The turbulent climate of the Great Plains made windbreaks necessary for the protection of settlers and their livestock and crops. At first individual farmers tried to plant their own shelterbelts but with little success. The US Forest Service, with the establishment of the Bessey tree nursery, in 1902, and the field planting of the Nebraska National Forest, developed the expertise to carry out farm forestry on the plains. In 1934 the Forest Service undertook the Prairie States Forestry Project, an eight-year program to plant shelterbelts from Canada to Texas, in response to the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. These shelterbelts were a technological solution to environmental and social problems. As they grew, successful shelterbelts developed forest characteristics and served as habitat for birds and wildlife. As systems that were both technical and ecological, shelterbelts embodied a confluence of culture and nature in the technology that farmers and foresters used to engineer a more suitable environment for American society on the Plains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)325-341
Number of pages17
JournalHistory and Technology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2009


  • Forest service
  • Great Plains
  • Shelterbelts
  • Social construction of technology


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