The Lincoln Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) received statewide recognition last month for its efforts in establishing living snow fences in Minnesota.
The Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (MASWCD) and the Minnesota Department of Transportation have awarded the Lincoln SWCD with the 2010 annual Living Snow Fence Achievement Award. The district received the award during the 74th annual MASWCD Convention Dec. 5 -7 in St. Paul.
"It's recognition for the hard work and recognizing that landowners are interested in doing these types of projects," said Dale Sterzinger, a conservation technician with the Lincoln SWCD. "I've been working with the program for 16 years. It's nice to finally be recognized."
Living snow fences are two or more rows of trees or shrubs placed in calculated locations along roadways to act as a barrier in preventing snow from drifting onto the roadway.
"We plant living snow fences in areas where we consistently have road-closing drifts. These areas usually can't be plowed with a standard plow," Greg Mensen, the District 8 transportation supervisor, said. "When living snow fences are established in these areas, we can keep the roads open with a standard plow."
In the last seven years the Lincoln SWCD, in partnership with MnDOT and the Lincoln County Highway Department, designed and implemented 2.5 miles of snow fence along federal and state highways and an additional 2.3 miles along county roads.
"What sets us apart is how much of it was done and how many miles of living snow fences we installed along the highways," Sterzinger said.
Lincoln County Highway Engineer Lee Amundson said snow fences help his department reduce costs in the winter by cutting down on man-hours required to plow problem areas.
"We are able to cover our routes faster," he said. "It allows those roads to stay open and makes it easier for our crews to clean those roads."
Sterzinger said it can cost approximately $2,000 to install a living snow fence, but the state and counties recoup those dollars in the winter with reductions in the costs of plowing and salting. Living snow fences not only provide the public with safer winter driving, but also provide conservation benefits such as improved water quality, better soil erosion control, and reduced spring flooding.
Sterzinger credits much of the success of the program to landowners who understand the need for snow fences on their properties.
"Landowners are pretty easy to approach in our county and are really easy to work with," Sterzinger said. "Once you get it started going on a road, people see it and like what their neighbor did and want to do it on their own property."
The Lincoln SWCD also provides incentive dollars to landowners to help offset the cost of snow fence projects. The living snow fence program uses CRP funds as well as MnDOT incentive funds to cover the cost of installing the fences. There is no cost to the landowner, Sterzinger said, and landowners receive a rental rate for the property covered by the living snow fence for 15 years.
"It takes some thought to put some shrubs out in a field," Sterzinger said. "To some people it's a real pain, but it's also a pain to them when people come to their house in the middle of the night stuck in the road."