20200217 IMG A winter walk in the pasture 2.JPG

Conjuring Forrest Gump; “For no particular reason,” I went for a winter pasture walk and kept on walking. . .

And for no particular reason, I started to look at snow, as frozen water; ready and willing to infiltrate, when warming arrives on the landscape. In areas of the country where water is lacking, capturing this white moisture is a critical element for the tap, habitat or the future growing season.

This journey was on the cusp of an article that crossed my desk: Conservation corridors in the United States: Benefits and planning guidelines by A. C. Henry, Jr., D.A. Hosack, C. W. Johnson, D. Rol, and G. Bentrup. It stated: “The loss of biodiversity has become a national concern. Land use planners are increasingly advocating the use of conservation corridors, including riparian buffers, windbreaks/shelterbelts, filter strips, field borders, and grassed waterways to improve water quality and wildlife habitat.”

For no particular reason, I started to question if I could do better and became acutely aware of my landscape as a net to capture the flakes of opportunity. As I read my land, it was like seeing a sea of fluffy whorls culminating in snow-dunes wherever the wind stopped for a moment and dropped out the life-giving blanket. For no particular reason, I was drawn to structure management and how my planned and unplanned hedgerows were functioning.

The first ah-ha moment in snow retention is, even on large open fields, having beneficial grass residuals. Mine can vary from a 10 inch refusal area to an overgrazed field being prepped for frost seeding. Even at a respectable six inches, this doubles the snow catching ability of my land. 

For no particular reason, we missed some fence subdivisions with the mower. 

However, our old friend, foe and phosphorus extractor, the incomparable knapweed plant, relish these margins.  With its upright florets and tough little trunks, it forms mini snow-fences, sequestering an amazing amount of carbon and blowing snow thereby creating a magical igloo for critters and soil microbes. Think beaver den. 

Upon excavating the snow from under these rudimentary living structures, it was apparent that a lot of activity is going on. Earthworms were still harvesting and leaving their casting call. Mice were busy forming laneways throughout the corridor making nests and chomping on stockpiled leaves. Based on my experience, it won’t be long before this corridor attracts the crows, hawks and foxes for an iced snack.

This winter stroll brought me to my planned hedgerows of larch, locust, conifers, lilac and cranberry shrubs which are finally contributing to snow retention and shelter for livestock.

As it grows, the snow collects farther into the field and slowly perks in the ground. This action consistently puts up increased cool season forage resulting in more grazing days, so it’s more profitable beyond the environmental benefit which is undoubtedly part of the regenerative narrative you’ve heard. 

Turns out snow manipulation is also an important fertility improvement tool as “winter and summer biogeochemistry are intertwined and decreasing snow cover generally reduces ecosystem N retention.”

I would argue it’s time we look at our land management strategies and snow collection systems as a way to once again address the grand idea of resiliency.

I could see a whole winter educational initiative led by snow retention field days coupled with buffer paint-ball competitions, sliding parties, roaring fires and lots of local food and drink to cement the message of environmental fun.

“And that’s all I have to say about that.”

The Bradford County Conservation District is committed to helping people manage resources wisely.  You can visit the Bradford County Conservation District at 200 Lake Rd in Wysox across from the Wysox Fire Hall. Contact us at (570) 485-3144 or visit our web page at www.bccdpa.com.