Shelterbelts - just rows of trees?

Shelterbelts are so much more than just rows of trees

Shelterbelts have been planted in Saskatchewan for more than a century, since 1901, under the provisions of the Government of Canada’s Prairie Shelterbelt Program (PSP). Shelterbelts provide: 

  1. a means to protect farmyard infrastructure
  2. reduce soil erosion through tree planting
  3. serve as wildlife habitat
  4. improve biodiversity and water quality
  5. capture and store atmospheric carbon as a direct result of the growth of shelterbelt trees, and
  6. present an additional opportunity for climate change mitigation

In 2003, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a document entitled “Good Practice Guidance for Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry”, which details the estimating, measuring, monitoring and reporting of carbon pool changes and greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions under various categories such as cropland, grasslands and forestland. Agroforestry systems, such as shelterbelts, represent a combination of these categories. 

Shelterbelt carbon legacy

The cumulative total length of six common shelterbelt species in the 2011-2016 study (50,439 km) represented 83% of the total shelterbelt inventory in Saskatchewan (60,194 km). The length of planted shelterbelts in the Province is >3 round-trips from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to Paris, France. The century-long shelterbelt legacy of the Prairie Shelterbelt Program is deeply rooted in the lives of the farmers, thus directly benefiting Saskatchewan’s agricultural land, as well as indirectly benefiting the local and global climate. Planting shelterbelt trees and shrubs on agricultural landscapes is an important strategy for mitigating greenhouse gases (GHGs), with 10.8 Tg C (1 Tg C = 1 million Mg C = 1 million metric tons of carbon) that are already sequestered in the soil and tree biomass of shelterbelts. The climate mitigation potential of the six shelterbelt species, ranging from 1.78-6.54 Mg C /km/year, emphasized the important role that trees can have on the agricultural landscape to mitigate GHGs.

A recent summary of the 2011-2016 project was presented at the 15th North American Agroforestry Conference: