OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – New legislation has taken aim at knocking down invasive Eastern Red Cedar trees that have been doing major damage across Oklahoma. The new plan will eradicate the trees along the North Canadian Watershed.
The bill, called the Terry Peach North Canadian Watershed Restoration Act, was authored by republican Representative Mike Dobrinski of O’Keene. It would allow $3.2 million in state funding to tackle the growing problem. Nearly $1 million in federal funding could be added to the program as well.
“They (trees) proliferate and have taken over hundreds of thousands of acres in the last few years,” said Dobrinski. “It’s way beyond our control right now.”
The first part of the plan would focus on 5,000 acres along the North Canadian Watershed from the panhandle to Oklahoma City.
McIntyre Law Chopper 4 flew over the watershed Wednesday where dense clusters of trees were spotted.
“It just made sense to concentrate on this particular area,” said Dobrinski.
Eradication crews would come in and burn the trees down on the property in the area.
“The best way to control this brush is with the prescribed fire,” said Trey Lam, executive director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission which will lead the program.
Lam said burning the trees will prevent seed spreading to other areas like it would if Red Cedars were removed in other ways.
He said the commission will monitor an additional 5,000-acre stretch, similar to the one burned, to compare the two.
“Just to see actually how much more water are we now getting in the river, how much more grass are we growing,” said Lam.
Red Cedars drain massive amounts of water from the state’s water supply. Each one can suck up to 50 gallons a day.
“It’s about a half a billion dollar impact every year in financial losses caused by feeders and the loss of water and the loss of wildlife,” said Lam.
Part of the program will train rural fire fighters since the trees often lead to wildfire outbreaks.
The last step, using state and federal dollars, would buy equipment for rural departments that will help prevent costly fire disasters in the future.
“If we spend the money, we have to obviously show taxpayers a return on that investment,” said Dobrinski. “This is probably going to take 2 to 3 years to show proof and a visible sign of success. But we absolutely have to continue all because it is statewide. It’s a huge problem.”
Dr. Kevin Wagner is the director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Center at Oklahoma State University.
He said he knew firsthand how important programs like this one will be to the state and its water supply. He helped implement a similar program in Texas. It had backing and funding from lawmakers.
Wagner said in a 10-year stretch, the program eradicated between 30-40 million cedar trees, but he said the one flaw was not having the data to physically prove changes in the state’s water supply. He said lawmakers decided to drop funding, even though he said the program was making a significant difference.
Wagner said the funding must be there for the eradication process to work.
The Conservation Commission said it has already started implementing Oklahoma’s plan. They began the first of July.