The University of Nebraska has determined that the eastern red cedar, a notorious invasive tree of the juniper family, presents one of the greatest threats to Nebraska livestock production.
According to UNL scientists, the red cedar (not a true cedar) have spread rapidly from south to north across the Great Plains and from east to west in Nebraska.
The red cedar has transitioned from a rare species in Nebraska (and the Great Plains) to one that is now quickly expanding across Nebraska at the expense of productive rangelands, said Dillon Fogarty, graduate student and research assistant in the UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture.
“More than a century of tree planting programs (windbreak establishment) have created many source populations that contribute to the spread,” Fogarty said. “Studies have shown that humans spread the red cedar into regions where it isn’t normally found. Then birds eat seeds and spread them locally.”
In the absence of continuous management, UNL research has shown that red cedar invasion can convert a productive rangeland to a closed canopy red cedar woodland in 40 years. As red cedar comes to dominate an area, livestock production and rangeland profitability decreases by 75%, Fogarty said.
According to Fogarty, once rangelands are compromised by red cedar, restoring productivity can cost up to $150 per acre in the Sandhills. The equivalent of $150,000 to treat 1,000 acres. Costs are even higher in southwest Nebraska where more trees are established.
New screening technology for western rangelands can now track the battle between trees and grasses and provide opportunities to act early and prevent the loss of rangeland productivity.
Dr. Dan Uden, UNL School of Natural Resources, and Dr. Dirac Twidwell, UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, designed the new screening method. It is based on the Rangeland Analysis Platform tool. It shows the percentage of each vegetation type.
“It will change conservation planning,” Fogarty said. “Much more accurately shows tree species overtaking grasslands.”
The data shows an unprecedented transition to woody dominance in Nebraska. Fortunately, much of the state is in the early stages of invasion, but the clock is ticking, Twidwell said.
Fogarty said research shows acting early to prevent infestation is more effective and cost efficient — especially when neighbors band together to confront invasion across property lines.
“Managing lands for red cedar is important on an individual level,” Twidwell said. “But to truly eliminate the threat on a regional scale, it will take many neighboring ranches working together.”
To assist in the fight, UNL is hosting workshops throughout the state in 2020. These workshops will feature new principles for managing Eastern red cedar invasions and examples of how collaborative efforts among ranches can enhance forage resources, livestock production and other natural resource goals.
For more information on workshops, contact Twidwell at firstname.lastname@example.org and Fogarty at email@example.com. To learn more about eastern red cedar invasion, visit cedarliteracy.unl.edu.
Jon Burleson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.