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Eastern red cedar tress could be the biggest threat to Nebraska Sandhills

A University of Nebraska professor says eastern red cedar trees are one of the biggest threats to the Sandhills.

Craig Allen tells Brownfield the species threatens economic activity, wildlife habitats and increases fire danger. “Once cedars get thick enough, land is abandoned,” Allen says. At some point, you start to lose forage production because if you get a canopy of red cedars, the canopy is really thick and it really doesn’t allow sunlight to reach the ground. It also changes soil properties including pH.”

He says red cedars produce durable wind breaks to help ranchers protect their homes and herds, but it comes with a cost. “We’ve really increased the invasion process, the speed of it, because the Sandhills don’t have to get invaded by the edges and slowly invaded in. But we’ve put wind breaks in the middle of the Sandhills too so that we can spread cedars from within too,” Allen says.

Allen says before the grassland was colonized, prairie fires depleted the tree population but overtime that, too, has changed. “Prairie fire is one thing but a fire through red cedar, which has very volatile oils in it, is very different. Also, it’s far more polluting because of the nature of the smoke.”

He says the best defense against eastern red cedars is active management.

Allen is the director for UNL’s Center for Resilience in Agriculture Working Landscapes that is fully operational.

The new center will try to identify tipping points: When has a landscape changed so much that it’s past the point of no return? In addition, Allen said, the field of resilience recognizes that management decisions made on one field or in one pasture — treating a field with pesticides, for example, or failing to manage for weeds — often impacts neighboring fields and pastures.

Listen to Allen’s full interview:

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