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Colorado Communities Benefit from Protection of Living Snow Fences

Living Snow Fences help protect roadways in El Paso County from drifting snow during Colorado’s harsh winters.

Living Snow Fences help protect roadways in El Paso County from drifting snow during Colorado’s harsh winters.

Living snow fences, installed with the help of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), can be a life saver for residents of El Paso and Elbert counties during Colorado’s often blustery winters.

Living snow fences are trees and shrubs that are planted in rows parallel to roadways or around portions of communities and ranchlands. Properly designed and placed, these barriers trap snow as it blows across fields, preventing it from reaching a road, waterway, ranch or house.

These fences can be a low-cost solution, reducing the effort spent on managing snow. They can be designed to spread snow across a large area or to confine it to a small storage area.

A living snow fence program that benefits both landowners and communities requires strong partnerships. County-level agencies, local organizations and landowners work together to identify areas where blowing and drifting snow is a problem.

In El Paso and Elbert counties, these efforts happen through the Colorado Living Snow Fence Program. Partners included the Colorado Department of Transportation, Double El and Agate Conservation Districts, NRCS Earth Team, landowners and community organizations. The program combines local conservation district funding with volunteer planting efforts.

The Colorado Living Snow Fence Program began in 1982 under the leadership of Dr. Dale Shaw, retired forester, Colorado State Forest Service. The goals were for the living snow fences to improve road safety, decrease the cost of snow removal on public roads and reduce the long-term costs associated with slatted snow fence maintenance.

It is estimated by the Colorado Department of Transportation that in areas where living snow fences are planted, per snow event, an average of four fewer hours of snow removal is needed and over $800 is saved in traffic control and highway safety costs.

NRCS in Simla provides technical assistance for design and labor to install the living snow fence plantings. The agency also conducts an annual census of the fences to see what maintenance is needed and assists with planting replacements for up to three years.

Many people have helped plant living snow fences in El Paso and Elbert counties—from private landowners, 4-H group members and Boy Scouts to employees of local tree companies, conservation districts and the Department of Transportation.

Since the program began in 1997, a total of 21 miles of living snow fences have been planted with a total of more than 12,000 trees in the Double El and Agate Conservation Districts, which encompass El Paso and Elbert counties.

Check out more conservation stories on the USDA blog.

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One Response to “Colorado Communities Benefit from Protection of Living Snow Fences”

  1. Chris Daley says:

    Good job!

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