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Oklahoma will conduct $3.3 million experiment on slowing spread of eastern redcedar

 An eastern redcedar stands at the edge of a clearing. Behind it, more redcedars.
Graycen Wheeler

The Oklahoma Conservation Commission is getting more than $3 million dollars to study the impact of eastern redcedars on the state’s water resources.

The money comes from Terry Peach Watershed Restoration Act, which was part of the state budget passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt earlier this month.

The Conservation Commission will study the effects of eastern redcedars on the state’s ecosystems and water resources and to develop solutions.

Rep. Mike Dobrinski, a Republican from Okeene who sponsored the bill, said the trees contribute to many problems in Oklahoma.

"Eastern redcedars and other invasive trees are harming our environment and our economy," Dobrinski said in a statement. "This program will help us determine solutions to protect our water supply, our grazing lands and wildlife habitats, and will help us reduce the risk of wildfires."

Using state funds and federal grants, the Conservation Commission will work with local landowners along the North Canadian River to clear 5,000 acres of redcedars and salt cedars — species that cost the state an estimated half-billion dollars in lost pastureland, depleted water resources and fire damage every year. State researchers will collect data on how that removal affects water availability, soil health and other species like native grasses and ground birds.

The Conservation Commission will also use the funds to train rural fire departments on prescribed burns and to clear brush-free zones around rural communities.

Trey Lam is the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, which will implement the legislation. The program is focusing on a targeted area for now, but Lam said he hopes they’ll be able to expand it in years to come.

The cedar problem is so expansive across the state, if we took this same amount of money and spread it out across 77 counties, we wouldn't see the impact in any one area,” Lam said. “So we’re trying to see for the dollars that we're spending, if it can have an impact in that in a smaller area and then see whether it's a good investment or state

Lam said he hopes this program serves as a reusable framework for the state.

I think it's the state's first step toward addressing maybe lots of different invasive species,” Lam said.

The Conservation Commission hopes to start collecting data and removing trees by the end of this year.


Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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