Forester: Recent dust storms show importance of windbreaks

By: Phil White Email
By: Phil White Email
Many of the windbreaks planted in the 1930s have been removed.

Courtesy: Ronda Tibbles

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HUTCHINSON, Kan. -- As dust storms blew across parts of Kansas this week, forcing the closure of highways and being blamed for at least one deadly crash, some have wondered if the destruction of hedgerows is contributing to the problem.

A state forester said Friday the destruction of windbreaks is not the sole reason Kansas has been dealing with dust storms. However, he said, the storms certainly serve as a good reminder to keep the old conservation methods in place.

Dennis Carlson, a district forester for the Kansas Forest Service, said northwest Kansas, where some of this week's worst dust storms occurred, has been suffering from prolonged drought. That area of the state, he said, never had many windbreaks.

"Typically up in that northwest area, more of our windbreaks are for livestock windbreaks and also around farmsteads," Carlson said. "Not so much field windbreaks."

Still, Carlson worries that some farmers are too willing to remove windbreaks, many of which were planted in half-mile- or mile-long sections in the 1930s in hopes of preventing another dust bowl, because crop yields are reduced within about 30 feet of the hedgerows.

"That sometimes gets in a negative aspect of of, but if a person looks from the windbreak going on out, there's actually a net increase once you get beyond that 30-foot area," he said.

Farming practices are different now from what they were in the 30s and 40s, when many of Kansas' existing windbreaks were planted. No-till and minimum-till farming help preserve soil moisture and keep soil in place.

"But windbreaks are another tool that people can use to mitigate the impacts of severe weather events," Carlson said.


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