It’s no secret that North Dakota’s tree rows and shelterbelts are getting old and need replacement. Going back to the days of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, about 55,000 miles of shelterbelts and tree rows were planted in the state.

The trees have done their job. The windbreaks helped fight erosion, increased row crop productivity and provided shelter for livestock and improved weight gains by cattle. The shelterbelts also provide habitat for wildlife. The trees, however, are aging and it’s estimated that nearly two-thirds of those plantings are in poor to fair condition. About two years ago a program was launched to replace the old trees.

On Monday, reporter Amy Dalrymple told about a partnership of the state Outdoor Heritage Fund, the oil and gas industry and private landowners to plant an estimated 55,000 trees in the next few years. The Planting for the Future project got about $108,000 in grant funding from the state Industrial Commission last week. The North Dakota Petroleum Council is one driving force behind the project.

The oil and gas industry will give $50,000 to the project and landowner in-kind contributions could reach $39,000.

There will be 30 tree planting projects, with the first six planned for Burleigh, Kidder, Emmons and Wells counties. Private landowners in Morton and Stark counties also are interested in the project. Oneok will plant about 20,000 trees to satisfy a requirement of the Public Service Commission.

Planting 55,000 trees may sound like a lot, but it’s just the beginning. Besides the loss of trees to age, nature has taken its toll. The floods of 2011 claimed trees along the rivers and the wet year created havoc in the Badlands in western North Dakota. There were landslides that uprooted trees and changed the landscape.

We can’t underestimate the importance of the trees. The number of people who endured the Dust Bowl are dwindling and with it the memory of the hard times is fading. North Dakotans and others across the country watched their land blow away. With it went their livelihoods.

We only have to look back to last summer to realize the impact of a drought. In the ’30s the drought lasted for a number of years. Think of last summer repeating itself for five straight years and consider the damage.

The Planting for the Future project deserves our support. Hopefully, as many landowners as possible will participate. If landowners take the initiative to plant a few trees on their property it will help. If we do things right we won’t have a repeat of the past in the future.

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