Raising awareness of snow fence program could help reduce dangerous drifts

hay bale fence

Snow fences, such as rows of trees, shrubs, or standing corn, can catch drifting snow and keep it off roadways. Because of their proven benefits, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) offers payments to landowners who add snow fences along highways. However, few landowners know about this program.

In a recent project, U of M researchers set out to better understand how landowners learn about the snow fence program and its financial compensation, why landowners who know about the program may not participate, and how MnDOT could better encourage snow fence adoption.

The new recommendations will be used to guide MnDOT’s promotional and recruitment efforts to expand the use of snow fences around the state. Options include working with local conservation districts to help set up and establish fences, encouraging the use of trees or shrubs as living snow fences for their carbon- and snow-capturing abilities, and stacking hay bales as snow fences, which can then be used for agricultural purposes when winter ends.

A 2012 study found that if just 40 percent of the 3,700 sites along state and federal roadways that are suitable for snow fences adopted them, the state would save at least $1.3 million. “To tap into those benefits, we wanted to find out why snow fence adoption by landowners has not been as robust as MnDOT would like,” says Dean Current, co-director for the U’s Center for Integrated Natural Resources and Agricultural Management.

Building on earlier work, researchers began by dividing the state into four areas based on land use and snow experience. Next, they met with MnDOT staff in each region to determine internal knowledge of the program and identify the most troublesome transportation corridors for blowing snow. The team then held community meetings with stakeholders in each region to discuss snow management problems and snow fence program knowledge. Finally, the team members surveyed landowners along the problem corridors about their experience with blowing snow control and knowledge of and attitudes toward snow fences and their adoption.

Following the survey, the team promoted the snow fence program through posters and on Facebook and held outreach meetings with landowners from the trouble spots. Investigators then surveyed landowners again about snow management problems and the snow fence program. Finally, researchers analyzed both surveys and prepared their recommendations.

“We really got a more integrated and quantified understanding of how landowners understand the program,” Current says. “The success of the project will really depend on how this understanding is applied.”

Researchers found that few landowners are aware of the snow fence program and its safety and mobility benefits for their communities. As a result, researchers recommended promoting the program year-round and including city councils, community groups, and program advocates who manage farms in promotion efforts. Researchers also learned that the primary constraints for landowners were the potential for fences to affect cultivation practices and equipment needs, loss of productive land, the desire for help establishing fences, and moisture management.

“This project is providing valuable insight for our blowing snow control program with MnDOT’s Project Management Shared Services and the five designers that are part of the team,” says Dan Gullickson, MnDOT Operation’s blowing snow control shared services supervisor.


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