Herald JournalHoward Lake-Waverly Herald, Sept. 30, 2002

Re-discovering the virtues of natural wind breaks and living snow fences

By Lynda Jensen

Before he built a living snow fence, Jed Zander would get snowed in regularly during the winter at his farm north of Howard Lake, along Wright County Road 6.

His driveway faces west across open crop fields and a dip in the road and would catch snow easily, he said.

So the Zanders decided to plant a living snow fence, or what is commonly referred to as natural wind break.

Natural wind breaks are basically a line of trees or shrubs designed to catch snow before it accumulates on roadways.

This did the trick. The Zanders no longer worry about getting out in the winter, and their snow fence actually keeps their house warm spring and fall, because it shuts out the wind, he said.

The living snow fence, which is about 15 years old now, is made of five rows of pine trees and ash, with some lilac bushes, too.

He was compensated by the government for the trees, but had to promise to maintain the fence, he said.

He built the snow fence, but consulted a neighbor who already built a snow fence before, Zander said.

For a farmer, it was a sacrifice to give up the acreage, though. In fact, his father, Loren, got mad at him for building it, he said. "He always said 'Farm everything you can," Zander said.

But the two acres or so that he gave up is well worth it, he said.

Another benefit to the snow fence is its natural beauty and the attraction of wildlife, Zander said.

When he first planted the snow fence, he noticed an increase in morning doves, Zander said. Apparently, they like the pine trees, he said.

A win-win situation

For snow removal, natural wind breaks have an impressive track record alongside Minnesota roadways.

To combat snow removal costs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Conservation Reserve Program is partnering with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to expand the state's living snow fence program.

To that end, MnDOT is looking for farmers or property owners located near problem roadways who are interested in growing living wind breaks, with compensation.

Since blowing and drifting snow play such a large part in Minnesota winter driving, MnDOT cites numerous benefits.

Currently there are more than 100 living wind breaks along state highways.

Among known benefits are the potential cost savings and public safety that could be impacted by a road remaining clear during and after a snow storm, instead of snow removal being necessary after the fact. This is especially true for problem areas that catch snow year after year in the same location.

Benefits of controlling blowing and drifting snow, according to MnDOT, include:

· Preventing big drifts that lead to stranded motorists

· Improving driver visibility to reduce vehicle accidents

· Reducing use of the public's money by reducing plowing

· Using fewer plow truck drivers

· Lessening impacts on our environment with less salt use, fewer truck trips and less fuel consumption

· Reducing shipping delays for goods and services

wind breaks can actually save lives, taxpayer money, and travel time, according to MnDOT.

According to the Minnesota Division of Emergency Management, the primary natural disaster that claims the most lives in Minnesota is winter weather.

From 1984-2001, hazardous driving conditions during the months of November through March resulted in 487 fatalities.

Between 1990 and 2000, in the Mankato-Windom area alone, there were 1,411 vehicle crashes due to snow, 917 crashes due to blowing snow, and 86 crashes resulting from cross winds.

With living wind breaks, driver visibility and road conditions are improved and accidents are reduced.

Saving money, living wind breaks also hit the right spot on Minnesota wallets.

Annually, Minnesota taxpayers spend approximately $100 million in snow removal costs; MnDOT averages $41 million.

The fences also save time, directly related to drivers on the road.

One example is the Gibbon snow fence site near Highway 19 with an average daily traffic count of 2,700 people.

If this highway closed for just 12 hours each year, that could affect more than 1,000 people, according to MnDOT.

The following are case studies about living wind breaks.

Gaylord wind break

This living snow fence design uses two 8-row strips of standing corn placed 150 feet apart. The corn rows are 2150 feet long and protect an S-shaped north-south section of trunk Highway 22 just north of Gaylord, Minn. in Sibley County.

Lamberton wind break

This twin-row planting of honeysuckle protects a 400 feet section of Highway 14 west of Lamberton, Minn. in Redwood County. The snow fence is located on the property of the University of Minnesota's Southwest Research and Outreach Center.

Mountain Lake wind break

A problem area along Highway 30 in Cottonwood County 10 miles west of Darfur is managed by a 2,000 foot linear planting of honeysuckle. This living snow fence is set back 300 feet from the north side of the highway to capture blowing snow before it becomes a problem for travelers.

Catching snow by design

Although simple in concept, designing a living snow fence can be complicated.

Poorly designed living wind breaks can cause problems and actually compound the problem, rather than help.

Property owners who wish to configure their own design may go to www.livingsnowfence.dot.state. mn.us/design.html, which will lead them in a step-by-step process to compute the fence.

In addition, there may be setback requirements at the township or county level. Property owners should call to verify setbacks before constructing a snow fence.

Designing fences also requires an understanding of snow transport, the grade or slope of the land, typical wind direction and snowfall, and what the required minimum height needed is to collect snow.

For example, southern Minnesota generally requires a 10-foot fence height to be effective.

South Dakota also encourages living wind breaks, with information about designing them:

· The windward row should be located no closer than 200 feet from the centerline of the road. This will allow adequate room for snow storage during severe blizzards, according to the State of South Dakota.

· The planting needs to be extended 100 feet beyond the area protected to prevent snow from sweeping around the ends of the planting.

· At least two rows of conifers and a shrub row are needed to provide a dense and effective barrier.

In fact, one of South Dakota's most effective living wind breaks, located along Interstate 90 just east of Rapid City, is composed of five rows: Rocky Mountain juniper, Russian olive, green ash, Russian olive and Rocky Mountain juniper.

There are 11 steps involved in proper snow fence design, according to MnDOT:

1. Identify the snowfall over the snow accumulation season

2. Identify the snowfall water equivalent.

3. Identify the relocation coefficient.

4. Determine the prevailing direction of greatest snow transport.

5. Enter the fetch distance for your location.

6. Mean seasonal snow transport is calculated.

7. Enter the fence porosity.

8. Required fence height is calculated.

9. Determine the attack angle of the prevailing wind (Step 4) with the road.

10. Required setback distance is calculated.

11. Length fence should extend from either side of the problem area is calculated.

It is necessary to find the mean snowfall in order to calculate the mean seasonal snow transport in a later step.

After the winter of 1996-97, a group of Minnesota agencies and organizations came together to form the Minnesota Interagency Living Snow Fence Task Force. For more information on this task force contact: Dan Gullickson-Chair: daniel. gullickson@dot.state.mn.us, or Mike Majeski at mmajeski@fs.fed. us.

For more technical information on wind breaks and drifting snow contact: Ron Tabler of Tabler & Associates: tabler@sprynet.com.

To participate

To participate in the living snow fence program, you must enroll in the CP 17A-Living Snow Fence Practice within the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program and enter into a living snow fence agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

You will receive annual compensation from Mn/DOT for up to a 15-year time period, for the:

· acreage enrolled in the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency;

· inconvenience of farming around the living snow fence from MN/DOT.

· growing and maintaining of the living snow fence.

MnDOT asks landowners to:

· identify tile line locations.

· provide a crop history and herbicides used in weed control.

· provide agricultural equipment widths, especially the width of your planter.

· share past experiences while working the land, for example, soil types, compaction and drainage as well as weed, deer and rodent problems.

· help determine the best access route to install, maintain and monitor the planting.

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