An Oklahoma County program to reduce the number of Eastern red cedar trees is one that other counties ought to copy. These trees are a menace and a dangerous one at that. The fewer of them we have, the better.
Red cedars are hardy and prolific — it's estimated there are 462 million of them in Oklahoma, with the state losing about 700 acres per day to the fast-spreading trees. Once they take root, red cedars can sap 40 gallons of water or more per day from the soil, exacerbating our current drought conditions. And the oily trees literally explode when they burn, serving as fuel for grass fires and making them a danger to those fighting the blazes.
Last week, District 2 County Commissioner Brian Maughan and state Agriculture Secretary Jim Reese debuted a program in which state inmates who are on work release will remove red cedars from public and private land in the county. A law passed last year by the Legislature allows Department of Corrections inmates to be used to harvest the trees.
“It's so expensive on our budget every year to fight these wildfires,” Maughan said. “We ought to try to do something proactively.”
Response was immediate: Maughan said that by the morning after his announcement, his office had received about two dozen calls from folks requesting the service. The hope is to remove about 1,000 trees per week and eventually to purchase additional equipment that will bump that figure to 2,000-3,000 removals per week. Manpower won't be a problem, and at $1 per day per inmate, it's inexpensive. Maughan said he hopes to offset some costs by selling the cedar mulch.
Maughan also has done good things with his SHINE program, which since spring 2010 has used people sentenced to community service to help clean areas in the county. This has benefited the county as well as those convicted of crimes.
The red cedar program figures to do the same.