A Tree Invasion? Yes, It’s a Thing

Like an insidious disease, slowly creeping into a system to wreak havoc, another pestilence haunts the pastures of the eastern Great Plains. Seemingly unsuspecting, pastures once lush with a grassly glow gradually are choked out this coniferous juggernaut. What is this weed, causing the decay of the basic fabric of our native prairie?

Circled Cedar

The Eastern Red Cedar. What a jerk.

I know, thanks to J. Sterling Morton and years of Earth Day celebrations we’ve received this mindset that trees can “do no wrong”. Well, the trouble is that in areas that are native prairie, the default setting is a lack of trees. The Eastern Red Cedar (red like those Commies) upends this natural balance by outcompeting native grasses. While previously kept in check by sporadic wildfires, it is now a menace that needs continuous monitoring to prevent it from overtaking a pasture.

But how does it become so problematic? Well, for starters, you don’t know you have cedar trees in your pasture until they are quite large. They aren’t that easy to spot when they are small. Observe in the picture below.

IMG_20171202_105554144

There are two cedar trees at least 8 inches tall in this picture. One might be playing peek-a-boo behind the tall grasses.

As they are a species of tree, they are not that easy to kill. The only good way is to cut them off flush with the ground. This sounds easy, but when they are difficult to see and you can have several hundred of them in one acre of land, it becomes a very labor intensive process. However, despite the labor they need to be cut, because if they are left untouched they will grow and in five to ten years will look like this.

_20171219_085213

And there goes a month’s worth of grazing for a cow.

Now how does a rancher manage their land to keep cedar trees from getting to the point shown in the picture above? My grandpa was a sticker for always taking a sharp spade with him when checking cows and cutting a few little trees with it while he was already out there. Dad has a tool that looks like a weed wacker with a circular saw blade on the end that he uses to slice them off at the ground. Me, I prefer a less labor-intensive tool.

Back 40 Fire

Which doubles as a great way to cook marshmallows and hot dogs. 

No matter how they are addressed, ranchers on the eastern Great Plains take the time to remove cedar trees to preserve the native grasses present there. In combination with good grazing practices, the invaders can be kept at bay the the wind can blow across the waves of unbroken grass as it always has.

-Jake

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