Friday, January 15, 2010

Trees in Straight Lines (Shelterbelts)

My friend was fascinated with the trees in GreaterDakota. They grow in straight lines. I suppose she thought that the wind blows so strong, it could accomplish this miracle. It didn't take long for her to be set straight. Trees that grow in straight lines are planted by our tree loving residents.
 The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed anyone over the age of 21 to file a Homestead Claim on 160 acres of designated US lands. The claimant then had five years make improvements that included building a house and digging a well. In addition to this, one could file a Tree Claim on 160 acres which required that 10 of those acres then be planted to trees. This meant ten acres of trees and 310 acres to farm, minus a few acres for the improvements. We have been tree planting farmers ever since.
This early photo illustrates that the horizon was barren. These folks are smiling despite the fact that there are no horses to pull their bobsled. Perhaps they are loading up as the team is lead from the barn, out of the camera's eye.
Notice that there are a few little trees planted in the background of this photo.
Planted a hundred years ago or more, trees that survive from the Tree Claims are usually large cottonwoods, elms, ash, or box elders. Time has determined that despite our best efforts, the area is not meant for trees and most varieties struggle with disease, pests, and the harsh weather.
In 1890 it was thought that planting trees on the Great Plains could alter the climate of the region. The theory, as I understand it, was that the trees would bring water up from deep in the ground, which would evaporate through the leaves and cause more rain. The theory proved false and the trees actually required much more water from surface sources than they brought up from the depths of the earth. In 1934, when the Forest Service opened an office in Jamestown, shelter belt planting began in earnest in North Dakota. The "changing the climate" theory was emphasized to be false. Tree planting was encouraged to reduce erosion. Click to read more about the National Forest Service and their plans for trees on Great Plains.
Everyone in and around GriggsDakota quickly understood that this was not a tropical paradise.
Well, almost everyone understood.
Ice and wind storms stunt young trees and reduce mature trees to firewood.
But it wasn't enough to discourage the fascination that plains settlers had with trees.
We plant several rows
Or a single row.
We plant them in the yard
And protect them with fencing and a stake to reduce damage from animals.
We plant them in shelter belts and cover the row with rolls of heavy plastic to discourage weeds and increase ground warmth, especially in the Spring.
In North Dakota shelter belts often become scraggly, stunted by the wind, they die quickly in our climate. New or highly recommended varieties have fallen prey, despite the high hopes of experts and those who are optimistic enough to plant them. 
Regardless, we enjoy their beauty on a summer evening.
A favorite backdrop for a photo on the plains,
"It has ever been thus." 
Quote attributed to Lord Acton 1834 - 1902
We know most trees will be difficult to get started and have relatively short lives, but life is too short for all of us. We will continue to plant trees.
While we live here we will love their Flowers,
Winter food for birds,
and Apples for boys and others.
Trees catch snow
And beautify the scenery even in the winter,
Especially in the winter
 When we long for beauty.


  1. This is my favorite post! I love straight lines of trees on the prairie. Awesome history and pictures. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Absolutely LOVE this post! In awe of the history and beauty of the trees of North Dakota. THANK YOU so very much for sharing!
    Sarah :)