SNOW & ICE CONTROL/Rows of trees, shrubs help keep roads clear
Last spring, the Kandiyohi County (Minn.) Soil & Water Conservation District (KCSWCD) completed the planting of a half-mile-long stretch of trees and shrubs on the property of a local farmer. Known as a “living snow fence,” the vegetation is intended to trap snow as it blows across the property, thus preventing the snow from piling up on adjacent roads and creating the hazardous driving conditions that lead to road closings.
KCSWCD, which receives its operating funds from Kandiyohi County and Minnesota, began building living snow fences in the late 1990s after a couple of particularly harsh, snowy winters wreaked havoc on area roads. The conservation district identified about 80 areas in the county where the accumulation of snow on roads had proven especially troublesome and began seeking landowners in those areas who would allow snow fences to be built on their property, says Richard Reimer, program coordinator for KCSWCD.
“I conducted meetings in little town halls. We brought in landowners from around the area. We had coffee and cookies and gave the landowners a presentation on the [living snow fence program],” Reimer says. As of this spring, 25 living snow fences have been built in Kandiyohi County, a total that will rise to 30 by the end of the year.
Conservation officials say that living snow fences reduce the time and money that roads departments have to spend to keep roads clear of winter precipitation by preventing large snow drifts. Reimer says that it takes about five years for the vegetation in a snow fence to grow to the point that the fence is fully effective; consequently, the full-scale financial impact of the fences in the county cannot yet be determined.
Still, KCSWCD estimates that, over a decade, a 10-foot-tall, quarter-mile-long living snow fence could save the county up to $100,000 in snow plowing and removal costs for an adjacent stretch of roadway. (The district bases that figure in part by estimating that each linear foot of the fence will trap between 20 to 30 tons of snow during the lifetime of a fence.)
Reimer points to an approximately five-year-old living snow fence in Prinsburg, Minn., as evidence of the effectiveness of the structures. “Years ago, the road crews would have been there multiple times already” to remove snow from the adjacent road, he said in late February. “This year, they haven’t had to go out there to remove any snow at all.”
The fence that was completed last May consists of five rows of vegetation: two rows of conifer trees and three rows of shrubs. The trees will stand about 25 feet tall at maturity, while the shrubs will reach approximately eight feet, Reimer says. The rows are spaced approximately 20 feet apart.
The cost of purchasing and planting the vegetation for the fence was more than $5,000; the conservation district financed the project using a combination of federal and state grants, as well as its own funds. The farmer on whose property the fence was built has agreed to keep the fence in place for 30 years. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, both based in Washington, D.C., have agreed to give the farmer a total of more than $13,000 to pay for the maintenance of the fence during that time.