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Bill Wilson

Dealing with Disaster

An Editorial by Bill Wilson of Kinta, Oklahoma.
Mr. Wilson is president of the National Association of Conservation Districts and a member of the board of directors of Haskell County (Oklahoma) Conservation District.

The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina will leave a significant mark in history. I can remember being told of two other events as a child that compare to the level of the catastrophe we are witnessing. In 1927, flooding along the Mississippi River finally broke the levee and flooded the Delta. That event resulted in thousands of evacuees being pushed north, most never returning to their homes. As a result, the “share cropper” way of farming left the South never to return in the same prominence.

The second event was the “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s. The effect was a mass migration of farmers from the plains to the West Coast states. Most of those folks never returned to their homes either. I have lived my life in the area of the Dust Bowl and just now some second generation folks are reaching retirement and returning to the homeland of their parents.

Katrina has similarities with both events. The national map showing the states where the evacuees from the Gulf Coast have gone clearly indicates that another exodus of American citizens from their homes has occurred. What we see most on television is the devastation with- in the city of New. Orleans. I have no doubt that the conditions there are every bit as bad as we are seeing. The citizens of that great city desperately need all the aid and assistance we as Americans can provide them.

It is critical, however, that we not forget those folks in the rural areas and small towns. Their needs are just as great. They too have lost their homes, jobs, crops and livestock; the list continues. They also desperately need our care and aid.

The loss of working lands in the region must be tremendous. Croplands, wetlands and grasslands that contribute to the economic welfare and ecosystem stability in the coastal areas are forever changed. Much restoration will be needed where appropriate and possible.

For more than 60 years the conservation partnership has been doing this work. We will now have an opportunity to apply our talents on a scale never before imagined. There will be many opportunities for our conservation districts to offer assistance to our “conservation family members.” We can lend a helping hand as they rebuild their lives, farms and communities and restore the natural resources within their jurisdictions.

As the farms and ranches and the cities and towns in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana begin to rebuild, we will have many opportunities to help with those efforts. Regardless of whether we are helping family members, friends or complete strangers, we as fellow countrymen should recognize our ability and responsibility to lend a hand in a time of need. Our most effective efforts will be repairing the natural resources—we are the experts when it comes to the land. Let’s help everywhere we can, but let’s take full advantage of our expertise, education, knowledge, and experience and apply it where it will be most effective.