|Hunter walking a North Dakota tree row.|
In the program's best years, the 1950s–1960s, hundreds of thousands of trees were planted. North Dakota alone had 55,000 miles of shelterbelts planted since the 1930s. They are not all there now.
“Those windbreaks still play a huge role out there. They do a lot to encourage protection from erosion, up to 10 times the distance of their height. They increase row crop productivity by 10 to 25 percent, and livestock sheltered there see improved weight gains of 10 percent,” [Larry Kotchman, head of the North Dakota Forest Service] said. “A farmstead will see energy savings of 20 to 30 percent in less heating and cooling.”Shelterbelts changed the environment for wildlife, providing more habitat for songbirds and encouraging whitetail deer to move into more areas. Thanks to the increased deer population, eastern North Dakota—where I am writing this—now even has a few mountain lions.
Trees can also provide an important refuge for wildlife. Two years ago, [when] the snow was very deep, wildlife suffered when their grass and food plots were buried, [Diane Erickson, district conservationist in Clark County, S.D.] explained.
“Deer and pheasant loss was high,” Erickson said. “Shelterbelts or thick tree plantings are their main source of shelter and even a good food source. Wildlife needs habitat, and tree belts are the best winter habitats.”Today, government agencies still encourage and fund shelterbelt planting, but more and more are being bulldozed in the name of "stewardship," which means profit. An agricultural-business site reports,
Fields often are divided into quarter sections (160 acres) and "80s" (80 acres.)
Decades ago, one or more shelterbelts often were planted on a quarter or 80.
That divided a single field into several -- for example, an 80 might have become two 40-acre fields -- and protected topsoil in all the fields from wind erosion.
Shelterbelts did what they were supposed to, but times have changed, [Terry Weckerly, president of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association] says.
Most farmers today use production methods that leave more organic matter on the field and disturb the soil less, greatly decreasing the need for windbreaks, he says.
Shelterbelts often become "a nuisance, an obstacle," he says. For example, branches breaking off trees and falling into fields complicates farming, he says.
More significantly, shelterbelts make it more difficult to apply chemicals properly, he says. (Emphasis added)So let's review this. Shelterbelts, once established, provided all their agricultural benefits for free while benefiting multiple species.
But "Being a good steward of the land is more than just putting trees in the ground."
Evidently, "being a good steward" means cutting the trees to gain a few more acres, then spraying all kinds of herbicides and insecticides on the ground, which run off with the snowmelt and also filter into the groundwater. That is what "no-till" farming requires: lots of honeybee-killing Roundup and the like.
(See the picture-perfect farmstead with the neatly painted house, the huge metal equipment sheds, the rows of stately trees—they don't cut the ones by the house—and the perfectly mowed lawns? Who knows what is in its well water?)
Plus convenience: "Another reason farmers have wanted to take out windbreaks is to make it easier to turn equipment. In the wet years two and three years ago, when sloughs took over parts of fields, tree rows made it harder to navigate tractors and combines—especially since equipment is all larger than it was years ago."
Nevertheless, the financial incentives to plant new shelterbelts and replace dying trees are still there, through various agencies. Those staffers keep making the same recommendations that they made in the 1950s—and they are still good ones.
And the same farmer who defends today's methods—who says that he needs them to pay off his loans—will sit across from you at lunch and agree that there aren't as many sharptail grouse as there were even ten years ago, that there aren't as many big whitetail bucks as there used to be, that there aren't as many birds in general.
No contradictions, nope.