Article reprinted from journalstar.com
Eastern redcedar, commonly called “cedar” or “juniper” is a tree native to much of Nebraska. However, it has been rapidly expanding into locations and habitats where it was formerly rare or unknown.
Cedar has already expanded into many areas of the Great Plains, converting vast areas of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas from productive grasslands to impenetrable forests. This rapid expansion is moving north into Nebraska. During the past decade, an average of 38,000 acres of Nebraska’s range lands and forests has been converted to cedar forest each year.
Why should we care about the encroachment of this native tree into formerly cedar-free landscapes in Nebraska? The rapid spread of cedar is a serious ecological and economic threat, and addressing it poses challenges that dwarf the capacity and resources of any one agency or organization in Nebraska.
Cedar invasion also affects the ability to reduce the risk of, and suppress, wildfires.
Cedar invasion reduces water availability because of its increased water use and interception compared to range grasses and forbs. Cedar may also change stream and river channels and alter flows.
Scientific evidence from the southern Great Plains documents catastrophic collapses in the biodiversity and abundance of birds, small mammals and pollinators endemic to grasslands following juniper invasion. The Nebraska Conservation Roundtable recently listed cedar as a primary threat to conservation of natural resources.
The increasing threat of cedar invasions is a direct result of contemporary changes in land management and the loss of fire as a structuring process in Great Plains grasslands. Fire historically limited the spread and distribution of cedar. Cedar trees are unable to grow new stems after fire consumes the canopy, making small cedar trees especially sensitive to fire. However, when cedar invasion is left unchecked and cedar forest and woodland develops, it is very difficult to return cedar woodlands back to productive grasslands.