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Invasion of red cedars raises fears of fire risk in Oklahoma

BY DIANA BALDWIN Published: May 24, 2009
EDMOND — The exploding population of Eastern red cedar trees is taking over, and people in Oklahoma are worried.

One Oklahoma Conservation Commission director said red cedar trees are the greatest threat to the state’s environment since the soil erosion of the Dust Bowl days and the severe flooding that took place in the early 20th century.

J.T. Winters Jr., Woodward County Conservation District director, said the state’s economy, human safety, health and wildlife populations, and water supplies are threatened by the red cedar population that plagues rangeland and urban areas.

"This is the most invasive plant we have got,” Winters said.

The Nature Conservancy in Oklahoma reports that in 1950, researchers found red cedars occupied 1.5 million acres in Oklahoma. Update surveys taken in 1985 and 1994 showed they had expanded in coverage 79 percent in just nine years.

Today, the invasive plant reaches beyond an estimated nine million acres of rangeland and forestland in the state.

This trend is consuming more than 760 acres of Oklahoma every day, conservancy officials report.

Burning trees explode
The April 9 wildfires across the state put a spotlight on red cedar trees that explode when on fire, sending embers from rooftop to rooftop.

Out-of-control fires brought fears of homeowners at Arcadia Lake to the forefront.

At a glance
Eastern red cedar trees

• Eastern red cedars are native Oklahoma trees.

• The oldest red cedar tree is more than 600 years old and lives near Lake Keystone.

• Historically, the trees grew in canyons or low areas, but as the landscape changed, the trees began growing elsewhere.

Source: Mark Bays, Oklahoma Urban Forestry Coordinator.


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