College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences

Living snow fence thrives, surprises

For the past decade, WSU’s Living Snow Fence has survived and thrived near Davenport. The fence was planted in 2003 to show that Great Plains-style live windbreaks can grow in eastern Washington. (Photo by Andy Perleberg, WSU Extension)
For the past decade, WSU’s Living Snow Fence has survived and thrived near Davenport. The fence was planted in 2003 to show that Great Plains-style live windbreaks can grow in eastern Washington. (Photo by Andy Perleberg, WSU Extension)

Along a blustery rural highway, foresters from Washington State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are proving that living snow fences—windbreaks made of live trees—can protect Northwest roads and farms from winter’s fury.

More than a decade ago, a group of WSU, state and federal researchers planted the Davenport Living Snow Fence, two 880-foot double rows of Rocky Mountain junipers designed to catch wind and snow along Highway 25, just north of Davenport, Wash.

Ten years later, the scientists returned, measuring poles in hand, to see how the wall of junipers had fared. They discovered that, contrary to popular belief, living snow fences can thrive in Washington’s drylands.

Living fences are common in the Great Plains, where winters are frequently harsh and drifts top 30 feet, closing highways. The Davenport fence was planted to show that Plains-style windbreaks can grow well on less than 16 inches of annual rainfall.

Gary Kuhn, left and Dennis Robinson, retired NRCS foresters, measure juniper trees at the Davenport Living Snow Fence after 10 years of growth. (Photo by Andy Perleberg, WSU Extension)
Gary Kuhn, left and Dennis Robinson, retired NRCS foresters, measure juniper trees at the Davenport Living Snow Fence after 10 years of growth. (Photo by Andy Perleberg, WSU Extension)

“There was a belief that trees wouldn’t grow here,” said Don Hanley, an Extension forester and emeritus professor with the WSU School of the Environment. “We knew that was wrong. People were using the wrong stock, and they weren’t planting or maintaining them correctly.”

To change that, he, Gary Kuhn and Dennis J. Robinson, two now-retired foresters with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), enlisted help from the Washington State Department of Transportation to find a snowdrift-prone stretch of Highway 25.

Working with a cooperative landowner, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the local Lincoln County Conservation District, they laid down tough polypropylene weed-blocking fabric, planted a hardy strain of junipers—and waited.

“We had good stock that was planted correctly, and good site preparation,” Hanley said. “We put everything we had into it perfectly. And the trees grew, and grew, and grew—with no irrigation. ”

Between the double rows, the NRCS Pullman Plant Materials Center planted a hardy species of fescue grass for erosion and weed control.

The five-year-old Davenport living snow fence captures 35 inches of snow in January 2008. (Photo by Andy Perleberg, WSU Extension)
The five-year-old Davenport living snow fence captures 35 inches of snow in January 2008. (Photo by Andy Perleberg, WSU Extension)

Hanley, Kuhn and Robinson measured the windbreak at five- and 10-year marks, then shared their findings in “Davenport Living Snow Fence Demonstration: A 10-year Survival and Growth Update,” a technical bulletin published in December by WSU Extension.

They found that the trees had crown closure—grown their branches together to form a complete wind barrier—in five to six years.

“With a live snow fence, you want them to close quickly, so they can start doing their job,” Kuhn said.

“This means the windbreak starts being effective almost immediately,” Hanley said. “Growth has been tremendous. More importantly, it’s been observed by thousands of people driving that highway.”

Benefits of snow fences

“Living snow fences are like an insurance policy,” said Kuhn. “About every 10 years or so, we get bad winters in Washington. When we do, roads are closed and people have big problems.”

Pheasant tracks show that wild birds find cover at the living fence in winter. (Photo by Andy Perleberg, WSU Extension)
Pheasant tracks show that wild birds find cover at the living fence in winter. (Photo by Andy Perleberg, WSU Extension)

Living fence benefits are widely documented, Hanley said. The trees keep roads clear of snow, making them safer while minimizing the expense of plowing. They help homes and barns stay warmer, saving on heating costs. Windbreaks shelter barns, pastures and livestock pens, for example, protecting newborn calves from cold, while saving on feed costs—cold livestock eat more. Windbreaks also keep valuable topsoil from blowing away in the wind.

Live fences require less maintenance than their wood or metal counterparts, while also providing cover for wild birds. Increased plantings of windbreaks could benefit the Northwest’s conservation nursery industry, says Kuhn.

The Davenport fence is expected to live for at least another 25 years, with little maintenance. Knowledge gained from the Davenport experiment has helped develop other living fences near Anatone, Wash., and Athena, Ore.

“It shows that if you plant these the right way, in the right place, they’ll benefit the public,” Kuhn said. “Proper planning ensures the effectiveness and existence of a windbreak for years to come.”

• Read “Davenport Living Snow Fence Demonstration: A 10-year Survival and Growth Update,” a technical bulletin published in December by WSU Extension, here: https://pubs.wsu.edu/ItemDetail.aspx?ProductID=15815&SeriesCode=&CategoryID=&Keyword=Living%20Snow%20Fence.

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Inspiring Teamwork – Arron Carter

It started with a car, a ’69 Corvette Stingray to be exact.

When Arron Carter, the director of the Washington State University Winter Wheat Breeding Program, was in high school his agricultural teacher had a ’69 Corvette Stingray. Every year this teacher would let his favorite senior take the car to senior prom. Carter had never taken an agriculture class before, but he knew he wanted to drive that car.

“Well, if I’m going to be the favorite senior,” Carter said to himself, “I’d better start taking some ag classes.”…

Read More: Inspiring Teamwork – Arron Carter

 










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The goal of the Washington State University CAHNRS Office of Research is to promote research beneficial to the citizens of Washington. The Office of Research recognizes its unique land-grant research mission to the people of Washington and their increasing global connections. The CAHNRS Office of Research provides leadership in discovering and applying knowledge through high-quality research that contributes to a safe and abundant food, fiber, and energy supply while enhancing the sustainability of agricultural and natural resource systems.

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Holiday Hours & End-Of-Year Giving

It’s that time of year again—time for sharing merry moments with family and friends. As you prepare for the holidays, consider these year-end giving tips below. We know how important the last few days of 2015 will be for meeting tax deadlines, and we are here to help make the process as easy as possible.

Please note the WSU Foundation’s hours of operation through the end of the year:

Dec. 2 – Dec. 23: Normal operation (8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.)

Dec. 28 – 31: Although Washington State University and the WSU Foundation will be closed, WSU Foundation gift accounting and gift planning staff will be available by phone from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. throughout this week. If you would like to give a gift of appreciated stock or discuss your year-end giving plans to benefit WSU, please call 1-800-448-2978.

Making a gift online using the WSU Foundation’s secure site is an easy way to make your year-end gift using a credit or debit card any time, day or night. Note: Online gifts may be made as late as 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31 to receive tax credit for 2015.

Thank you for your generous support of Washington State University throughout the year. Have a wonderful holiday season!

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Remember, only gifts made by Dec. 31 can help reduce your 2015 taxable income. Please keep the following in mind and consult your tax advisor for specific details.

To Receive 2015 Tax Credit:

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The date you deliver or mail your donation is generally recognized as the gift date for tax purposes. Please note, the date on the actual check or money order is not recognized by the IRS as proof of your intent to give on a particular date. Gifts by check or money order may be mailed to:

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Note: Gifts may be hand-delivered to the WSU Foundation Town Centre Suite 201 during hours of operation.

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The date your account is debited is considered the date of the donation. In order to receive a 2015 charitable income tax deduction, credit card gifts must be processed against your account in 2015. Please make sure to make your gift online using your Visa, MasterCard, or American Express.

Have your stocks gone up in value this year? Consider making a simple and tax-wise gift of appreciated stock. Please note that mutual fund shares may take several weeks to transfer, and the gift is not considered complete until the shares are received in the WSU Foundation’s account. To give the University stock or discuss your year-end gift to WSU, please call 1-800-448-2978.

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