Stillwater-Based Oklahoma State University Researchers Propose Use for Troublesome Tree

Article excerpt

Eastern red cedars may be useful for something after all, according to researchers at Oklahoma State University's Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources: mulch.

It's better than nothing, Adam Maggard said. Even though landowners probably won't make any money from the trees, at least they might help pay for the cost of their removal.

"It's as good as any of the commonly used mulches that you'll find on the market today," said Maggard, a doctoral candidate in natural resource ecology and management. "The mulch industry is probably not large enough to eliminate the red cedar problem in Oklahoma. But at least this will be important to the people who can't burn them; it gives them another tool to help reduce red cedars on the landscape.

"In Oklahoma, if you can buy red cedar mulch, you should buy it, because you're getting the same benefits and helping the overall ecosystem of the state," he said.

A recent study by Maggard, Rodney Will, Thomas C. Hennessey, Craig R. McKinley and Janet C. Cole found that the tree has invaded more than 8 million of Oklahoma's 44 million acres and is spreading quickly. They cited a state Agriculture Department estimate from 2002 that red cedars in Oklahoma cause more than $218 million in losses annually due to decreased grazing, increased water consumption, reduced recreation opportunity and increased wildfires - the oil that the cedars produce is highly flammable.

In the last few years, state government conservation officials have told The Journal Record that red cedars have already consumed 7 million to 10 million acres, although the rate of invasion has remained steady at about 300,000 acres annually. Damages likewise fluctuate and have generally inflated over time to the latest estimate of $450 million by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.

State Forester George Geissler said he wishes politicians would stop citing figures, because the truth is no one knows how many red cedars are in Oklahoma; a solid estimate won't be available until a statewide inventory is completed in 2015.

"I appreciate that state Rep. (Richard) Morrissette has brought more attention to the problem," Geissler said. "We have people on the ground surveying plots, but it's not enough data yet to provide a statistically valid estimate and it won't be for a while.

"He's trying to capitalize on the wildfire situation, although in this case it wasn't the red cedars that were an issue - it was the drought," he said. "You couldn't tell the difference between an oak and a cedar blowing up right now, given the conditions."

Geissler credited Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, for driving an effort to find value in the trees to prompt business development. That's why the statewide forestry survey is so important, he said.

"You can't draw up a business plan until you know how accessible your resources are," Geissler said.

Although the cedar - which is actually a juniper, contrary to its name - is native to Oklahoma, it is not indigenous to many of the areas that it has overwhelmed. …