The Undeniable Importance of Windbreaks in the Environment

It is planting time and the signs are everywhere around here. Great monolithic farm machinery rumbles across the fields. They wind around the fields tilling and planting. I love watching them because it is a reassuring continuity of life.

This Spring has had extremes in temperatures and rainfalls. We have flip-flopped from unusually hot and dry to below average temps and heavy rainfall. During the hot and dry spans, the farmers work in the fields from before sunrise to long after the sun has gone down. My father used to say “Gotta make hay while then sun shines”. This has never been more true this season. The windows of opportunity to get the fields planted this season are short-lived and the farmers make the most of it.

The picture I have included in this post is a farm in my neighborhood. You can clearly see the topsoil spinning into the air. This dust fills the fields and air like smoke. The dust is on everything. I feel like I live in the “Grapes of Wrath” opening lines. “Dust. Dust on everything.” That “dust” is really our precious topsoil. Our life-giving and life-sustaining soil that is required and necessary to grow everything.

After the tragedy of the Great Dust Bowl, arguably our country’s most devastating man-made ecological disaster. You have probably seen pictures from that era. Great dunes of dust are piled against homes like giant snow drifts. The cattle and livestock suffocated. Children died from dust related diseases. Families moved away and lives changed forever. We learned that our misguided farming practices coupled with lasting drought caused this tragedy. We would never make that mistake again…

Here we are in 2017 and I watch giant old growth trees that hold our soil in place being ripped from the ground. We have programs, subsidized by the government, that pay farmers to clean up the old fencerows. These fencerows are leftovers from the years this land was filled with small farms. Everyone had livestock and pastures that were surrounded by barbed wire fences. Nowadays, the pastures have become fields dedicated to growing crops, mostly corn and soybeans. The old barbed wire fencing became entwined in the trees and the old fencerows were forgotten. As small adjoining farms were bought  by a single landowner, the desire to make one massive field as opposed to small separate fields grew. It is easier and more efficient for a farmer to maintain his fields if the smaller 100 acre fields were joined together to make one  500 acre field. This seems to make logical, right? Except now, we have lost many of our trees that provided wind break.

According to the Ohio DNR Dept. of Forestry, windbreaks provide many valuable benefits. Prevention of soil erosion, prevention of air and water pollution, stop the pesticide sprays from blowing onto residential areas and many more. The value of windbreaks can not be underestimated.

It seems there are competing forces at work. One is a government subsidized program encouraging landowners to clear up the old fence rows and a government agency declaring the importance of windbreaks. There are windbreaks already established within the fencerows. It seems a senseless waste of time and money to rip out old growth trees that provide important habitat for wildlife and then spend money planting more trees.(

It seems we could clean up the old barbed wire located within the fence rows without removing all of the trees. I have watched entire tree groves ripped out by the roots, piled into massive heaps and then burned. The trees aren’t used for firewood, lumber, fence posts or any useful endeavor. They are ripped out by the roots and burned. We are losing our windbreaks, our soil protectors, our air pollution screens and turning them into more air pollution. We are losing important habitat for animals and birds. In addition, we are draining the marshes that are the only habitat some birds and animals can exist in.

The picture for this post tells the story more clearly than words ever can. You can see the soil drifting across the field and being captured by the trees. If these trees were gone, the soil would continue to blow into yards and roads and ultimately disappear into the sky.

The picture tells the story.

Let’s save our trees, our soil, our way of life. Plant a tree. Save a tree.


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