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February 5, 2013

What to do with cedars

NORMAN — A question at this past week’s Norman Chamber of Commerce legislative breakfast seemed to catch lawmakers off guard.

Norman City Council member Dave Spaulding wanted to know what they were doing about eastern red cedar trees that are invading pastures in his council ward and throughout the state. The trees have been here for years but only recently have come under scrutiny, mostly due to water and fire concerns.

The trees consume about 40 gallons of water per day, destroy wildlife habitat and are a hazard for firefighters. Dry trees burn like torches. The trees are “consuming” an estimated 700 acres of pasureland per day in the state.

At one time, they provided windbreaks for farms during the Dust Bowl. State officials now estimate the economic damage to the state at $46 million. Lawmakers want to find ways to encourage an industry to harvest the trees from pastures.

In early days, range fires kept down on the number of unwanted trees in pastures. Lawmakers have made it easier to use inmate labor to remove trees, but there doesn’t seem to be much interest in the harvested tree as a raw material.

The only industry that has grown up around the menacing trees seems to be extreme brush-hog-type removal. Advertisements in co-op magazines show machines that will rid pastures of up to 100 trees per hour.

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