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Before you cut down that Cedar Tree…..

I know a lot of central Texans that suffer with cedar fever and wish there were more cedar choppers out there who would bull doze them all down. They think that if they do, it will not only help their allergies, but bring back all the water to our drying soil. What they are not realizing is that it would be ecologically devastating and impossible to do so. Cedar covers over 24 million acres of Edwards Plateau and provides year round drought tolerant greenery for erosion control, cooling protection for the soil, shelter for a lot of wildlife, and not to mention, raw materials for the fence post industry. What would we do for fencing and late night campfires if it were not for the ash juniper? There are some like the green guru that think the resinous aroma of cedar makes life worth living, in Texas.

The truth about cedar is that adult trees in moist conditions can absorb up to 32 gallons of water a day from the soil, whereas cypress trees absorb hundreds of gallons per day, since when did you see a campaign against them? In 2002 a study was done by a non-profit called American Forests, they found that since 1985, San Antonio has lost 45,000 acres of dense (mostly cedar) tree cover due to development. These trees had more than aesthetic value… If preserved the trees could have soaked up more than 3 million pounds of CO2 a year and saved the city $146 million dollars in drainage costs to control floodwaters and erosion. Unless one is willing to plant another evergreen tree for every cedar they cut down, their choice is contributing to global warming, soil erosion, and flooding.

If we have some nice oaks we would like to focus our attention to and allow to grow fully by cutting surrounding cedar that is one thing, cutting them down only to leave soil that will erode or crack in the sun is another. Dr. Charles Taylor, Jr. of the Texas Agriculture Experiment and Research Station, suggests the use of goats to control new cedar growth on your land and allow for more grazing area. Goats seem to like the young cedars and are a great sustainable way of keeping new cedar growth to a minimum.

I cringe at the sight of the scarred Wimberley hilltops whose owners felt was necessary to denude. With only a few tenuous oaks dotting the land, the fragility makes you wonder if there wasn’t a sacred balance ripped away from the hillside. Their soil soon will be baked in the heat of the Texas sun and eroded away in the wind or next gully washer. The cedar choppers are saying, “But, cedar trees weren’t here 500 years ago!” Well, neither were we…. And there are now 23 million Texans.

The green guru asks those who feel that cedar is the culprit of central Texas water shortages, since the average Texan uses 60 gallons of water a day, what could we learn from the cedar tree.
Quote of the Month: “ The bulldozer and not the atomic bomb may turn out to be the most destructive invention of the 20th century.” Philip Shabecoff, New York Times Magazine, 4 June 1978

Posted on Saturday, July 1, 2006 at 09:52AM by Registered CommenterHeather Carter | Comments21 Comments

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Reader Comments (21)

Thanks for the information, Green Guru! I don't know if it's the same for cedar as I've read it is for some other tree populations - but the source I remember reported that almost 100% of trees planted by human hands in the last 40 years, particularly in urban areas, are male - and therefore pollen producing! They are considered easier maintenance because they don't produce seeds or fruit - but this could be contributing to our own allergies. Perhaps encouraging a more balanced tree sex diversity around houseing would help, too??
July 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie Molnar
Trees planted for agriculture, of course, notwithstanding.
July 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie Molnar
Where to start? Cedars are native, but not in the numbers we have them today. They are native, but also invasive.They have been here for hundreds of years but were controlled by fire and buffalo. The issue is there are too many of them. It's not that they use more water than a similar sized tree, but they prevent the water from hitting the ground, it stays in the tree to evaporate.They need to be thinned. If it's a bush, cut it down; if it's less than 2 or 3 inches in diameter, cut it down. This really should be done by hand, so as to save the understory growth of eve's necklace, tickle tongue, beauty berry, etc. and it should be done as a mosaic. Native grasses will return to prevent erosion, and to assist the water in returning to the aquifer.I'd pass on the idea of using goats to control cedar, it will result in the loss of understory and you will end up with a goated out piece of property.
July 19, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterWinchester
This idea that water will not reach the ground under a cedar.....? Where is that coming from? While some water is collected on the needles of the tree, doesn't the same happen with every tree, all foliage? Cedars are getting a bad rap around here because there are so many of them. Did anyone stop to think maybe they are a gift from the universe to help with CO2 emissions, sustainable insect resistant building materials, and native habitat. To each his own on his own property, I would just hope that they consider the potential effects carefully before they cut and if they do indeed cut, they do not burn, but rather use any wood created as a fence or similar project to warrant the sacrifice.
July 28, 2006 | Registered CommenterHeather Carter
Great article on the ash junipers.
Don't they also inhibit the spread of oak wilt disease by disrupting the "oak-to-oak" root system ? The only cedars I cut are ones sho are too close to my live oaks, otherwise I just try to trim them to pretty them up a bit.
July 28, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBill Williams
Cedar trees also provide a very important role in reclaiming the rocky Hill Country soil. The cedar follage that dies off and drops to the ground produces very rich dark soil beneath - especially the larger trees and bushes. This soil provides a nice fertile place for other vegetation to propogate including oaks.

July 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBob Dazey
The info comes from decades spent in the Hill Country as well as research done by Parks & Wildlife and others.Cedars are uniquely shaped to do this.By removing the brushy cedar, not the primary growth,you allow more diversity to develop in native grasses and understory plants, thereby greatly helping habitat.Step one in healthy land stewardship is developing diversity.Anyone who eliminates the cedars is just asking for horrific erosion when the next frog choking rain comes. I would urge people to leave cedars to the north & west of red oaks to provide some protection to those trees from storm winds, as the red oaks are not the strongest tree around
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterWinchester
The land restoration I'm working on uses mosaic clearing, cedars are left on slopes, mature cedars are left; but the new growth that completely chokes out everything else is being removed. In its place Mother Nature has provided native grasses, little bluestem,big bluestem yellow indian grass, side oats, a variety of grammas, etc etc. The native understory such as agarita, eve's necklace, soapberry, etc etc now is thriving. More species of birds and butterflies are coming. Quail, not seen in many years have returned. The springs are flowing better.The warblers are doing nicely because the mature cedars are still there. But without the clearing, none of that improvement would have happened.
August 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterWinchester
Winchester, thank you for your comments and good advice. As my article was addressing those who clear cut every cedar on their property, I am happy to say there is a happy middle ground where you can clear some undergrowth to allow mature trees to get bigger and other plant species to flurish. I do not claim to be a plant expert only a concerned greeny who thinks all trees are worth their weight in the CO2 they absorb. And I do have a concern for those who cut all new cedar growth down. Once all mature trees grow old and die out what will be left? Wouldn't it be wiser to allow some to grow and just trim them up so that they allow light under their branches and thus other species of plants?
August 8, 2006 | Registered CommenterHeather Carter
I agree whole heartedly, clear cutting is simply put, stupid. The soil bakes in the sun, and washes away during storms.I only recommend clearing by hand, a slow hard process, that forces landowners to get in touch with their palnts and soil. I suggest clearing no more than 10% of your land ayear, and that in a mosaic, rather than one large area. Mature cedars should be left, they can actually be quite majestic. Removing cedars allows other trees to thrive, native ash (not arizon ash) elms, mountain laurel, a variety of oaks ( burr, post, red, shin, blue,bigelow, blackjack to name just a few.Sculpting cedars is a good idea to, it actually helps the tree by removing the lower growth that will die off any way.
August 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterWinchester
Another problem with clear cutting cedar is that if forces the deer population off the area cleared thereby impacting adjoining tracts of land adversely.

Another study showed that by clearing all the cedars around a liveoak, that the oak went into a form of shock from the heated soil.
August 9, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterwinchester
Regarding a cedar canopy versus other tree canopies: Take an oak leaf for example. There is a center vein in the leaf which acts similar to a funnel -- helping precious rainwater runoff onto the ground instead of staying caught up in the tree canopy where so much of it will be lost to evaporation.

Regarding goats: One main reason much of the native hill country was lost was due to overgrazing by cattle & goats -- leading to stripped a landscape. They are really not a sound answer to cedar control.

Cedars are not a gift of the universe to save us from global warming: They became invasive because mankind mistreated the hill country (see goats) and created the conditions for them to prosper and we are now "out of nature's perfect balance".

Regarding springs: There are few places with the number of unique aquifers and springs than the Texas hill country. Blue Hole and Jacobs Well sit in our own backyards -- how fortunate we are!! Our gift back to the universe should be to restore the hill country -- and that includes "checking" much of the cedar over growth. Sound and reasonable clearing plans will help tremendously.

Regarding cedar recycling: It makes excellent mulch and some trees may make reasonable fence posts and fencing material. But, there are far superior home building products for less money. While we could make use of "some" of the cedar -- I'm afraid we have more cedar supply than cedar demand.

I do believe Winchester has it right! He apparently had worked hard to restore land according to nature's plan. And he is reaping the benefits.

August 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterHill Country Native
Give me 1000's of acres of nothing but an invasive cedar brake (which is very easy to find here in the hill country), put a tall game/wildlife fence around it --- soon, and I mean VERY SOON, you'll have deer and other wildlife that are absolutely starving to death!

NATIVE Grasslands, native hardwoods, and CONTROLLED cedar is imperative to the survival of hill country species and will help in augmenting our precious aquifers & springs.

If that means a good amount of the cedar has to go via SOUND clearing plans -- THEN SO BE IT!
Dear Love our Aquifers & Springs,
Thanks for your opinions, I think, however if you cage anything it will die without water. I fear people around here actually think that if they cut down all their cedar all of the sudden water will start flowing. We are in a serious drought, and with global warming effects, every degree that it rises in temperature the evaporation rate goes up 10% higher. Thus, as they predicted creeks and rivers will dry up and the moisture in the soil will evaporate too. Not having tree canopy for shade and roots from trees no matter what species they are will add to the problem.
August 23, 2006 | Registered CommenterHeather Carter
Well, I was speaking of 'starving' (not dying of thirst). But, you could put a nice stock pond in the middle of that uncontrolled 1000-acre cedar brake and you would still see wildlife starve to death in there.

And, I certainly did not say "get rid of cedar and springs will suddenly start flowing".

But instead I offered "NATIVE grasslands, NATIVE hardwoods, and CONTROLLED cedar are very important ingredients to a healthy and diverse Hill Country -- and absolutely increases the recharge of aquifers and springs".

In addressing the naturescape, that is best the Rx for the Hill Country.

The canopy/shade of that monsterous, uncontrolled cedar brake has already contributed to mass moisture evaporation when the trapped rainfall evaporated from the canopy before it ever reached the ground.
Heather, you are correct. Just clearing cedar does not create water, or springs. A quick trip to Selah, the Bamberger Ranch will show what restoration can do. They cleared cedar, too much at one time they will admit; springs came; but not just because of the clearing; rather they have the geology for the springs. If you don't have the geology for springs, nothing you do will create one.Ecology is amazing, as it shows us the interrelationship of everthing to everything else. For some years, I have preached the law of uninteded consequences, you simply can not contemplate or expect every consequence of an action; bottom line, you learn from your mistakes. As for global warming, most people do not understand that global warming creates enormous climatic changes (not weather changes, but climatic) it doesn't just mean that it will get warmer; storms will get worse (see last years hurricane season) weather patterns will change (remember the last good rain we had)
August 25, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterWinchester
Winchester, you're a very, very wise person!!

Heather, there are several of my posts that are not showing up here. Just thought I would let you know. This is an important topc for our area and I think everyone's comments and information is indeed important. Can you help?
Winchester, OH YES! The "interrelation of all things" is very important. And, again, that is why it is imperative that we not set out to correct a problem without careful study on unintended consequences. In reference to "cedar cutting", I know the CO2 issues are an important global issue. We can "think globally" but we have to "act locally". And, I've studied at Bamberger and also think "restoration" is the best answer to most environmental and ecology issues.

And speaking of 'unintended consequences'- that is exactly what has me wondering if biodiesels are absolutely the "be-all, do-all" as a replacement to gasoline engines. I clearly remember the science theory I learned in Jr. High School "For every action - there is an opposite and equal reaction". Boy, my science teacher would be proud of me, wouldn't she :-)

But, since you mentioned global warming here, I thought you may also be well studied on that subject & CO2 issues as well. After reading these links it definitely left me wondering about the "opposite and equal reaction" and/or "unintended consequences" of the biodiesel mantra.

I also posted these links on the "Biodiesel or Bust" article which Heather has on her website. So, if you're interested in responding -- it may be more appropriate to elaborate there. If not, that's okay too. It's just some material that I found very interesting.



August 26, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Q Public
I wouldn't say wise. I've stumped my toe, bumped my head, and smashed my finger more times than I can count. I just try to learn from my mistakes. And I can't add anything to the biodiesel good or bad issue other than to say that I firmly believe in alternative energy sources and reducing our reliance on oil, domestic or foreign.
August 28, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterWinchester

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