Case Study: Kansas Windbreaks

The fifth oldest state forestry agency in the nation, the Kansas Forest Service (KFS) has been serving private landowners and communities for more than 130 years. The KFS team knows that trees serve many functions and provide countless benefits. That’s why they knew they needed to take action when it was clear that many of the windbreaks of western Kansas were in need of maintenance or renovation. Their effort to restore Kansas windbreaks has helped KFS to connect with farmers and safeguard the integrity of the landscape.

 

AT A GLANCE

Project goal: Renovate windbreaks to restore environmental, economic, and public health benefits

Project area: Three county region in western Kansas

Audience: Farmers with windbreaks in fair to poor condition

Outreach method: Direct mail

 

Windbreaks (or shelterbelts) provide many benefits to the residents and farm fields of western Kansas. As the name suggests, windbreaks help to slow the wind blowing across the plains and reduce destructive effects like soil loss and crop damage. They can also help to lessen the intensity and likelihood of dust storms which can have major consequences for public health and safety. Unfortunately, many of the windbreaks in western Kansas have been around since the days of the dustbowl and are now weakened or not functional at all. The Kansas Forest Service (KFS) recognized that the trees that make up these windbreaks had been overlooked for too long and that something needed to be done to maintain the benefits that they provide. KFS developed a strategy to make it easier and more appealing for landowners to restore these windbreaks on their property.

What do they want landowners to do?

KFS’ goal is to get landowners with windbreaks in fair to poor condition to renovate those windbreaks to recover their lost environmental, economic, and public health benefits. Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) cost share funds are available through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to help these landowners offset the expense of the renovation. Before landowners can begin applying for cost share, they must first contact their Conservation District Manager or District Forester to start the conversation about the state of the windbreaks on their land. 

Who is the primary target audience?

Since traditional forest inventories do not capture the condition or location of windbreaks, KFS needed to conduct their own assessments in order to find their target audience. The KFS team developed a protocol to analyze remote sensing data to identify windbreaks and assess their condition. They then used this data in ArcGIS overlaying it with a parcel data layer to find the landowners with windbreaks in fair to poor condition.

What are these landowners like?

Most often farmers, these landowners tend to be influenced by financial concerns. They care about crop yields and cattle health and are interested in ways to improve these. While they don’t consider themselves environmentalists, they do take pride in being good stewards of their land.

How can these landowners be reached?

Because the target population for this effort is so spread out and the qualifications for cost share so specific, KFS decided that direct mailings to landowners identified through their landscape assessment made the most sense. These landowners received a personalized letter outlining the issue and offering a solution. The letter was timed to arrive before the start of spring planting season more than a full year in advance of the EQIP cost-share deadline. This allowed the landowner ample time to contact the forester to set up a time to have their windbreak assessed in person, and then work with the NRCS District Conservationist to complete an EQIP cost share application.

Read more about what works in KFS' letter here.

What message will get them to act?

To encourage their target audience to contact their Conservation District Manager or District Forester, the KFS message focused on two key motives.

  1. Windbreaks provide conservation and wildlife benefits (appealing to pride in being a good steward)
  2. Cost share is available to offset the cost of your windbreak renovation (reducing financial barriers)

These elements highlight the personal connection to the quality of the land and provide a means to improve the land without the pain of a large financial investment in renovation work.

Evaluation and Adaptation

KFS’ effort to improve the functionality of windbreaks in western Kansas launched in 2015 in three counties. The response to the initial mailing was very positive—10% of landowners receiving the targeted mailing responded. All respondents received a property visit and nearly all of those visits resulted in a plan for a renovation or new windbreak. More than 90% of the renovation plans qualified for EQIP cost share.

Since 2015, 21% of the initial target audience has had a windbreak plan written and as of 2018, 94% of those plans had been implemented. The high success of this effort has encouraged KFS and plans are underway to expand this effort into more counties in the future.

Download the pdf of the case study

All images provided by the Kansas Forest Service.

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