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Districts a key windbreak partner across Great Plains

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By Mike Beacom

Conservation leaders from eight states gathered in Manhattan, Kansas, earlier this month for the Great Plains Windbreak Initiative, a three-day meeting designed to advance the “research, understanding, and use of windbreaks in the Great Plains.”

In additional to mitigating hazardous winds, these windbreaks in North Dakota save energy and can cut home heating costs. Windbreaks also help net big gains in carbon storage, improve income by increasing crop yields, and protect livestock from heat and cold stress.

Windbreaks – one of five recognized agroforestry practices – are created by planting trees, shrubs, or grass in rows to protect crops, livestock, wildlife, or people from hazardous winds.

When properly designed, located, and managed, windbreaks can produce environmental and economic benefits. The earliest windbreaks date back to the mid 1930s, but the practice gained widespread acceptance in the 1970s and ’80s.

The Great Plains Windbreak Initiative laid the foundation for a region-wide plan to advance the knowledge and use of windbreaks for supporting profitable and sustainable farms and ranches in Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Texas. Conservation districts in these states continue to assist in these efforts.

  • The University of Wyoming Extension promotes conservation district seedling tree program as a way to obtain trees for a planned windbreak. According to Extension Agriculture and Horticulture Educator Bridger Feuz, “Seedling tree programs provide a relatively inexpensive source of good, quality trees that have been selected to be adapted to the Wyoming climate and conditions.”
  • Craig Eddie is the natural resources coordinator for the Upper Niobrara White Natural Resources District in Nebraska. He also manages the district’s tree program – one of 23 in Nebraska that helps get seedlings to landowners. The program helped landowners receive trees at a discounted rate to replant following the 2012 fire season. This spring, residents will be able purchase conservation grade seedlings for $1 apiece. The district helps place a lot of trees, with most being used in windbreaks. “In fact, since 1985 we’ve planted 7.2 million trees,” Eddie said. “Probably more than 85 to 90 percent of those were used for windbreaks.”
  • The South Dakota Association of Conservation Districts (SDACD) updates an annual windbreak survey that tracks the acreage and purpose for each windbreak planted in the state back to 1944. Last year, South Dakota conservation districts helped to plant more than 3,000 acres of windbreaks, more than two-thirds designed for field and feedlot protection. “The winds that blow across South Dakota’s fragile soils create wind erosion concerns as well as stress our livestock,” said SDACD Executive Director Angela Ehlers. “Assisting producers by planting and caring for windbreaks provides the producer needed natural resource protection and the conservation districts earn funds to operate. A secondary benefit of many of our field and feedlot windbreaks is the wildlife habitat they also provide.”
  • Conservation districts helped the Kansas Forest Service conduct windbreak assessments in the southwestern and western parts of the state to learn more about the condition of existing windbreaks. The Logan County Conservation District helped map windbreaks in need of further study and obtained landowner permission so that Kansas Forest Service could conduct on-site assessments. Both Logan County and Wallace County Conservation Districts sent letters to farmers and ranchers to alert them to the assessment.

Visit the National Agroforestry Center website for more information about windbreaks.

To read more feature stories from Forestry Notes, follow Mike Beacom, NACD’s forestry specialist, here on NACD’s blog or subscribe to Forestry Notes by clicking here.

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