Pilot Program Promotes Benefits of Snow Fences

A new program piloted in western Minnesota to increase snow fence use among private landowners has been so successful that MnDOT is looking at rolling it out statewide.

The University of Minnesota’s Center for Integrated Natural Resource and Agricultural Management worked with MnDOT District 8 staff for more than a year to develop and test a snow fence outreach program that could be used by MnDOT district offices.

“After our training, we saw a 300 percent increase in the number of standing corn rows, and that was on the initiative of a few people in the maintenance group. We’d like to spread the training to other districts,” said Dean Current, Director, University of Minnesota Center for Integrated Natural Resource and Agricultural Management.

Background

Living snow fences are natural vegetative barriers that trap blowing snow, piling it up before it reaches a road, waterway, farmstead or community. It could include leaving a few rows of corn or hay bales along the road side, or even temporary fencing.

MnDOT has about 3,700 sites that are suitable for snow fences. It estimates that if 40 percent of problematic sites had snow fences, the state could save $1.3 million per year in snow management costs. Despite the cost, safety and environmental benefits, private landowners have shown limited interest in the program. An effective outreach program was needed along with strategies for identifying MnDOT personnel who could promote the practice and recruit landowners to the program.

“If we can implement our blowing snow control program more consistently, we can help reduce crash severities, improve operational efficiencies due to snow and ice control measures, and improve the mobility of the public,” said Dan Gullickson, Snow Control Program Administrative Coordinator, MnDOT Office of Environmental Stewardship.

How Did We Do It?

In January 2016, investigators surveyed MnDOT District 8 employees to gauge their understanding of snow fences as well as their approach to working with landowners to implement blowing snow control measures. The investigators studied survey responses to assess awareness of and interest in promoting the use of snow fences and grading to reshape road environments for snow and erosion control. They also examined snow fence programs from around the country, identifying types of snow fences used and characteristics of programs that successfully recruit landowner participation.

A permanent snow fence along a rural highway.
A permanent snow fence along a rural highway.

Results from these efforts were used to design an outreach program that was presented to District 8 staff. In January 2017, investigators surveyed the staff to evaluate the training and redesign the program accordingly. Finally, investigators evaluated market values of various snow fence designs.

What Was the Impact?

Initial survey results identified two relevant types of district personnel: maintenance and program delivery staff. Maintenance staff involved in plowing and road care interact more with landowners than do program delivery staff, who design or redesign roadways and may be involved in acquiring land for snow fences. Though tailored for each group, all training described the MnDOT blowing snow control program and its implementation, the role of snow fence coordinators, operational benefits and awareness of how promotion of the program fits within the scope of an employee’s duties.

Keys to the success of snow fence programs around the country include strong relationships and direct communication with local landowners, funding, landowner interest in conservation and public safety, and observable benefits.

A follow-up survey showed marked improvement in staff knowledge of the program and willingness to promote it. Landowner participation grew from four sites to 15 in the year after training, due mostly to maintenance staff participation. Survey respondents suggested potential program improvements such as more program champions; outreach in spring and summer at community and farmer gatherings as well as at local and state fairs; and a clearer understanding of how program promotion fits within job responsibilities.

The market study demonstrated that nonliving snow fences, though the most expensive option for MnDOT, offer the largest benefit per acre. Landowners seem to prefer living snow fences and standing corn rows. MnDOT may wish to raise the annual payment for all living snow fences.

What’s Next?

Considerations for MnDOT include implementing the training program in other districts, further defining central and district staff roles in snow fence promotion and implementation, incentivizing snow fence champions, developing more outreach material and maintaining relationships with landowners.

A new project currently under way aims to further expand these efforts.

This post pertains to Report 2017-42, “Expanding the Adoption on Private Lands: Blowing-and-Drifting Snow Control Treatments and the Cost Effectiveness of Permanent versus Non-Permanent Treatment Options.” Related research can be found by searching “snow fences” under “Projects” at MnDOT.gov/research.

 

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