Red Cedar Big Problem On Prairie

Red Cedar Big Problem On Prairie

Infestation of red cedar trees changes Tallgrass Prairie from rangeland to forest; impairs livestock grazing.

They're everywhere – those Eastern red cedar trees that dot much of the Kansas landscape. And they pose a problem for many landowners.

"Eastern red cedar encroachment is an increasing problem in rangelands in the eastern two-thirds of Kansas," said Carol Blocksome, range management specialist with K-State Research and Extension. "The Kansas Forest Service estimates that there was a 23,000 percent increase in red cedar volume in Kansas between 1965 and 2005. That means an undesirable conversion of rangeland to forest, which negatively impacts prairie wildlife habitat and a decreased amount of available forage for livestock." 

Red Cedar Big Problem On Prairie

Blocksome and several colleagues developed a red cedar calculator that allows a cattle producer to roughly determine the amount of forage lost to red cedar encroachment and the related reduction in carrying capacity of a paddock. The calculator can be found online at http://ksfire.org/p.aspx?tabid=15 under "Education/Reasons for Burning."

The tool estimates the amount and percent of forage lost due to red cedar encroachment, and also estimates the number of cow-calf pairs that could be supported if those trees were eliminated.

Red cedar is primarily controlled by burning small trees (less than 3 feet in height) and by mechanical means for areas with larger trees, dense stands without a grass understory, or where fire poses a safety hazard, the agronomist said. By allowing producers to calculate forage losses, the costs of redcedar control can be considered in conjunction with the potential for positive financial returns due to increased livestock production.

The calculator was based on measurements taken in the tallgrass prairie. It has not been evaluated for mid-grass or short-grass rangelands.

Producers often work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to gather information that needs to be entered into the online tool, Blocksome said.

"Controlling red cedar, and thereby increasing forage production, can have a positive economic impact for producers by allowing them to stock more livestock in the same paddock," she said.
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