Living snow fences help keep roads open

A living snow fence in southwest Minnesota

Snowplows are not the only thing that help keep Minnesota highways driveable in the wintertime. Farmers sometimes leave cornstalks standing near highways, and 'living snow fences' are also becoming more common. A living snow fence usually has several rows of trees, bushes and grasses. The idea is to let the plants catch blowing snow before it reaches the road.

Mark Larson with the Minnesota DOT in Windom in southwest Minnesota, says farmers are paid $700 an acre to let corn stalks stand. He says interest in the program has "gone down a little bit" in recent years because the price of corn has risen. Farmers figure they can make more money by harvesting the grain than by letting the stalks stand.

Larson says the living snow fence idea is catching on, but the concept still has a long way to go. Although the state has identified more than 1,200 miles of highways with chronic snow drifting problems, only about 30 miles of roads are protected either by standing corn rows or living snow fences. There are state and federal programs available to encourage land owners to plant protective vegetation.

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