Friday, February 3, 2017

Cedars Invade the Praries

Eastern red cedars, correctly a juniper, Juniperus virginiana, have spread astronomically over the last century.  Schoolcraft only listed them twice during his 3 month trip through the Ozarks in 1818.  Fire suppressed them until we began controlling wild fires the last 100 years.  A cluster of cedars gives robins food (cedar berries) and protection from the wind in winter, a debt they pay back by perching on fence lines and balds, pooping the seeds randomly.  Cedars cover the fields and glades, and our Ozark bald landmarks have become hirsute.

A story in highlighted the struggle of Kansas cattlemen to maintain their prairies for grazing.  Groups are coming together to create prescribed fire associations because cedars are killed by fire which will spread rapidly through a field.  The Anderson Creek wildfire last March has been called an "ecological cleansing," clearing cedars in 574 square miles of Kansas and Oklahoma.  It would have cost $56 million to achieve with standard removal practices of land clearing and cedar mulch production. This however was at the cost of destroyed homes and fences and the death of livestock.
Cedar cut for glade restoration, 1998  - REK
Texas has a similar problem with Ashe Juniper invasion that is nothing to sneeze at.  In addition to "cedar fever," the allergies that lay Texans low in the winter as the junipers begin mating, they are contributing to the water shortage and fire risk.  A mature tree sucks up 33 gallons of water a day, robbing needed soil moisture as well as ground water. After the Anderson Creek fire, ranchers reported “We’ve got water in streams that haven’t run for years because the fire decimated so many cedars.”

Even our humble efforts of clearing cedars and burning for glade restoration on our land are a lot of work and expense.  The cost of clearing these grass lands is great but the cost of fire risk and the loss of prairie lands is even greater.

Read more here: