NORMAN — Recently I’ve received a number of calls about planting trees and shrubs for wildlife and other conservation purposes such as erosion or wind breaks. Many are inquiring about replacing dead trees and shrubs caused by fire or drought, while others are planting new shelterbelts. Landowners have planted trees and shrubs in Oklahoma for almost 80 years.
Responding to the devastating drought of the 1930s, President Roosevelt instructed the U.S. Forest Service to initiate the Prairie States Forestry Project. In fact, the first planting was completed near Mangum, Oklahoma on March 18th, 1935 to prevent soil erosion, produce wood products, and develop wildlife habitat. By 1942, 145 million trees were planted in 18,600 miles of shelterbelts from Canada to Texas and many of these can still be seen today.
Coupled with wind and water erosion prevention, interest in managing deer and other wildlife species has increased the desire to plant trees and shrubs in recent years.
Along with deer herd management (passing young bucks and taking does instead), habitat management is also important. Tree and shrub planting is an integral part of habitat improvement and highly beneficial to both deer and upland game birds.
Trees and shrubs provide food in the form of browse, fruit and nut production, thermal, escape and protective cover and provide nesting opportunities. Trees and shrubs are aesthetically pleasing, provide shade, improve property value and prevent wind and water erosion. Planting bare-root seedlings is recommended from both a cost and establishment standpoint.
Young trees establish and adapt better than older, potted trees. In addition, utilizing polymer water-storing crystals and powders may help conserve moisture during dry summers.
Choosing the right species and planting site are also important steps in achieving a successful planting. Oddly enough, one of the most invasive species is also one of the most important to the success of many shelterbelts planted since the 1930s. The Eastern Redcedar is a resilient, prolific and highly-invasive juniper found throughout our state. It is heat and drought tolerant and makes a tough wind barrier. These are a few of the reasons it was desirable during the Dust Bowl. However, cedar is fire intolerant and with fire suppression, its population has exploded. Cedars use a tremendous amount of groundwater, reduce livestock production, cause cedar-apple-rust and present a catastrophic fire danger as Cleveland County residents witnessed during our most recent wildfire.