Stimulus Funding Goes Toward Controlling The Eastern Red Cedar - NewsOn6.com - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - KOTV.com |

Stimulus Funding Goes Toward Controlling The Eastern Red Cedar

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State agriculture experts say red cedar trees overtake almost 300,000 acres a year across the state. State agriculture experts say red cedar trees overtake almost 300,000 acres a year across the state.
"These trees have infested the entire state," said Rep. Richard Morrissette, (D) District 92. "We're losing 700 acres a day from this tree, a hundred gallons of water a day from these trees." "These trees have infested the entire state," said Rep. Richard Morrissette, (D) District 92. "We're losing 700 acres a day from this tree, a hundred gallons of water a day from these trees."
But all the focus on burning unwanted cedar only frustrates people like Perry McDonald: "Why are we sitting here burning it, when we could market it? Yeah, that's frustration." But all the focus on burning unwanted cedar only frustrates people like Perry McDonald: "Why are we sitting here burning it, when we could market it? Yeah, that's frustration."

By Alex Cameron, Oklahoma Impact Team

OKLAHOMA CITY -- It may not seem like much in the rarefied air of the $787 billion Recovery Act, but $100,000 is still good money, and that's how much the state is getting in stimulus funding to help fight a particularly invasive plant species: the Eastern Red Cedar.

State agriculture experts say red cedar trees overtake almost 300,000 acres a year across the state. Some of that is offset by eradication measures already in place, but the fast-growing junipers are winning the battle.

The implications, state officials say, are significant, because of the damage cedars can cause and the threat they pose.

"If you've ever seen a red cedar burn, it's like a bomb," said Rep. Richard Morrissette, a democrat representing the state's 92nd district.

Rep. Morrissette hosted a hearing for stakeholders and other interested parties at the Capitol last week, to follow up on an interim study he requested on the red cedar menace. Through the study, Morrissette learned that the red cedar is not only dangerously flammable, it steals water from competing trees and vegetation, disturbs prairie ecosystems and destroys wildlife habitat.

"These trees have infested the entire state," Morrissette explained. "We're losing 700 acres a day from this tree, a hundred gallons of water a day from these trees."

Clay Pope, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, says unchecked, the trees will put the Lesser Prairie Chicken on the endangered species list.

"It's just a situation where these trees have gotten out of control," said Pope.

At present, the most commonly practiced method for halting the spread of red cedar in Oklahoma is prescribed burning. And according to officials with the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, the $100,000 in stimulus money is to be used to bolster those efforts.

"This money is going to be used to promote prescribed fire on private lands through prescribed burn associations," said Luke Bell, "by buying equipment, getting the education, having workshops and teaching people how to burn safely."

But all the focus on burning unwanted cedar only frustrates people like Perry McDonald: "Why are we sitting here burning it, when we could market it? Yeah, that's frustration."

McDonald is co-owner of a small company, Singing Wire Cedar, in eastern Oklahoma that clears and then harvests cedar trees.

"This is cedar," McDonald explained during a recent visit to his rural home/workshop. "Some of this wood right here is actually going to be put into countertops."

Countertops, fencing, closets, chests, mulch, insecticide, oil, and bio-fuel pellets – all cedar products that, McDonald says, could be produced in Oklahoma from cedar currently targeted for burning.

He says there's tremendous potential for a cedar industry in Oklahoma. "I would estimate, and the numbers have been bantered around, that there's a billion dollars a year that we're burning in Oklahoma. That's a ‘b'…billion."

But to make it work, McDonald says, the state needs to change course and take the stimulus and other monies going toward burning, and instead put them toward building – building infrastructure. He says the state could help stimulate the construction of new sawmills and the purchase of new mulching equipment. It could also help educate people on the commercial opportunity that cedar provides.

And still, prescribed burns will remain in the mix. "Yeah, we're gonna have to burn some of the stuff in Oklahoma, we are," McDonald advised. "But we don't have to burn all of it, and the stuff that we don't burn, we need to be harvesting."

Rep. Morrissette agrees. "We have got to take this opportunity now."

And, after his hearing, others also seemed inclined to agree.

"If there's a way we can make money off of an environmental problem, we're supportive of that…definitely anything that can get this invasive species under control," said Pope.

"I mean, this is something, if we don't address now," Morrissette added, "we're gonna address it one way or another in the future."

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