While under my watch here at Two Mile, I’ve not done much to control the invasive cedar trees that move into prairie and pastures if not regularly mowed, grazed, or burned. This year is the year to do it, and this week is the week to get it done.
Actually, that first line has some mis-truths. The Eastern Red Cedar is a native tree to North America and is not a true cedar, but a juniper. Because it is not naturally part of the prairie, and both the shade they create and the water they consume restricts regular growth of grasslands, the Cedar tree is considered invasive. The trees don’t flower until they are about 10 years old, and the berries are often eaten by birds, making the transmission of seeds across lots of miles of ground easy.
To get a sense of where these trees have grown, click the 2009 aerial image to the left and get a view of the topography and clusters of trees. The big pond is in the left third of the image, about in the center. In this photo, the little pond is covered with pond meal and reflects the light. The right two thirds of the photo is the managed habitat for pheasants, deer, and songbirds. Two Mile Ranch gently rolls, with elevations varying about 50 feet. On the far West, the left edge of the photo, is 7 Mile Road. The ground gently slopes down to the pond levels, then rises halfway and down again. On this halfway crest is where the barn, bird pens, and cabin sit. Terrain rises up on the east side, right, of the big pond and crests about one third across the photo. It drops down again and rises back up about two thirds across the photo, then gently slopes to the east, right, property line.
The ground also slopes from north to south, resulting in drainage down the hills east and west and generally north to south. That’s created some erosion issues over time. I’ve included aerial photos dating back to the 1930s to show the evolution of the farm in the last 80 years.
Cedar trees, are the beginnings of a new habitat. Over time, the grass filled prairie converts to a scattered tree savanna, then to a sparse woodland, and ultimately to timber. The US Fish and Wildlife Service suggests that an acre of cedar trees can use 55,000 gallons of water. This translates into roughly 2 inches of rain. Historically, prairies remain prairie because of wildfire. Fire started by lightning and later by man allowed huge sections of prairie to burn, controlling new woody brush, weeds, and encouraging and strengthening grasses.
So with that little bit of ecology lecture out of the way, let’s look at the task at hand. I didn’t do a count, but I estimate between 300 and 400 volunteer Cedar trees over the 60 acres of habitat. Many of them are clustered in the 20 acres or so from the big pond to the valley between the two hills. My original thought was to hire a contractor with a skid steer and tree sheer to remove the trees. But after learning both local contractors were booked solid, I remembered a quote I heard on NPR from J. David Bamberger, http://www.bambergerranch.org/
“You don’t need a bulldozer. You need a chainsaw, wheelbarrow, axes, hand tools, and a lot of friends coming out from time to time, and a little time. You can buy used equipment — don’t waste your money on new — and you can accomplish on your property what I’ve done here.” (quoted on NPR)
So by working a few hours each day, I’ve begun removing the trees with the goal of having them down by Friday. Later posts will show progress and my results.