Friday, September 2, 2011

Tree of Infamy

As if I needed a reminder of how bad the Eastern red cedar invasion has become in the Southwest, this week brought that problem front and center. The prolific tree is taking over millions of acres, crowding out native oaks and just about every other species as they spread. And that isn't all.

When wildfires occur, volatile Eastern red cedars ignite like torches, creating raging infernos. A case in point: in Oklahoma City, the invaders fueled wildfires covering 18 square miles last week, burning dozens of  houses and scores of vehicles...and the fire danger continues. Just yesterday, a wildfire came disturbingly close to us (see yesterday's post).

Ironically, fire once controlled the pest, as ranchers (and before them, Native Americans) periodically burned off vast expanses of grasslands in an annual rite of renewal. In these conflagrations, cedar seedlings didn't have a chance. But as small farms and ranches have gone by the wayside, seedlings have been the millions. After seven years or so,  young trees are mature enough to cast their own seeds to the wind, so the problem keeps growing exponentially.

It's hard to say how this invasive genie is ever going to get put back into the bottle. The numbers of Eastern red cedars have become so astronomical over the past several decades that the cost of irradicating them boggles the mind. Meanwhile, a growning number of cities are banning the buying, selling, transporting, and planting of the plant.

Recently, entire new industries have begun popping up, aiming to take advantage of what some see as a rich new source of raw materials. Eventually, Eastern red cedars could become an important energy source, turned into fuel for power plants. But Eastern red cedars are like used tires (which are already used as fuel), in that it will take a lot of power plants to use them up faster than they can reproduce.

For my part, all I can do is make sure the trees don't get a toe-hold on my property. And when it comes to store-bought mulch, I stick with cedar, doing my small part to help turn back the Great Eastern Red Cedar Invasion.

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