NORMAN — New home and commercial development eats up a portion of the state’s land that was formerly pastures and farmland. But it’s nothing like the Eastern red cedar trees that choke off land, literally every day.
Birds carry the seeds and drop them. Range fires used to eliminate the new growth each year but rural development makes that unmanageable. As evidenced by this past summer’s fires, the trees provide a steady fuel source for fires.
State agricultural officials estimate the Red Cedars will take over nearly 300,000 acres of land this year alone. That’s 700 acres per day, lost to the trees.
Now, a new state law state inmates are allowed to help eliminate some of the trees on public and private land. Senate Bill 1539 allows the Department of Corrections to utilize inmate labor in clearing land.
A few businesses have developed to use the word in manufacturing. Machines have been devised that will devour an entire tree. But when it comes down to clearing pastures, it’s a labor intensive operation.
Corrections officials have told legislators they can put together a 10-person crew as a pilot project but they’ll need about $190,000 to hire supervisors and purchase equipment. The crews would be made up of non-violent offenders who have minimum security clearance.