Ecology Ottawa Voices Support for Living Snow Fence Program

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Our Program Coordinator, William van Geest, delegated to Council's Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee on June 6 to express our support for a motion proposing Living Snow Fences along rural corridors.

If you don't know about living snow fences, they're brilliant: they improve driver safety, crop yields, nutrient retention in soil, and biodiversity. To learn more, check out these resources from Wellington County, where a program already exists.

Please read our delegation below—or simply watch it here.

Image credit: Craig Stange, NRCS, and the US Forest Service Living Snow Fence brochure.

___________________________

Thank you for the opportunity to address you. I’m doing so on behalf of Ecology Ottawa.

We’re really excited about this motion. We had a chance to discuss it with Councillor Brown and Rural Woodlands Ottawa a few months ago at Morning Owl in Manotick, and we loved it. We want to heartily applaud Rural Woodland Ottawa for presenting the idea in the first place, Councillor Brown for championing it, and City staff for supporting and filling it in. 

This motion is longer than most, but in really good ways: particularly the “whereas” section outlines very nicely the numerous, numerous benefits of living snow fences. Really, it’s remarkable how many benefits can be packed into a single project. This is of course typical of nature-based solutions—that they check so many boxes, whether economic, ecological, societal, or anything else.

A couple other benefits that we’d add to those in the motion:

  • Less pollution coming from the road and spoiling crops—for example, engine exhaust, microplastics from tires and brakes, and road salt
  • Sound absorption: vegetation dampens road noise
  • Safer driving speeds: lining roadways with trees encourages slower driving 

All to emphasize: this is a great project.

We do have a number of suggestions relating to the motion, however—and let me emphasize beforehand that the priority should be a quick and broad rollout of the program; if some of our suggestions would delay the rollout, they could be considered at later stages.

First of all, we’re slightly confused about the funding source proposed for this program—namely, the Rural Clean Water Program. While there certainly will be benefits for rural water with this program, these benefits aren’t the first that spring to mind; in fact, they’re only mentioned once in the “whereases.” Since the primary impulse behind this program relates to transportation, and since a similar program already exists, doesn’t it make sense to draw from this program, or another transportation program? We realize that the projects funded by the Rural Clean Water Program are diverse; we just wouldn’t want to deprive other projects that fell more squarely under it.

We were pleased to see a line in the “therefores” about reporting. This proposal will inevitably prove itself of enormous benefit in all the ways that the motion mentions. We’d like to make sure that as many of these aspects as possible are reflected in the report—particularly aspects relating to reduction in vehicular collisions in pilot corridors, possibly improved crop yield owing to increased pollinator presence, and improved nutrient retention in the soil since wind is reduced. 

We’re also concerned about the proposed reporting deadline. If the program gets implemented next year but a report is due in Q4, this won’t be enough time to gauge its effects—primarily because it won’t have snowed yet, and that’s the moment of truth. Even as far as the program’s many other benefits, it takes trees and shrubs some time to get established, and we’re concerned that this won’t be enough time. We want to make sure the program gets a chance to shine, as it invariably will—in time.

We’d also like to see an educational component to this program. Again, we’re certain that once landowners realize some of the benefits of living snow fences, they’ll want to implement their own—perhaps even independently of the program’s funding. How will they learn more—say, about species selection, appropriate plant heights and depths, and siting? Moreover, some benefits may be hidden, such as improved crop yields, soil retention, and so on; how will landowners be made aware of these benefits?

Finally, and above all, we’d urge that this program be scaled up substantially and quickly. I understand that we want to see outcomes before making large investments; but living snow fences have existed for as long as agriculture has been practiced in snowy areas, and there’s no reason to think that they won’t work here. The Rideau Valley Conservation Authority has the expertise to select the right species for given locations and share best practices on cultivating plantings. We’re glad to see a “therefore” clause for additional funding, because this program should get everyone’s full support.

Thank you for your attention.

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