If you own a ranch in the Texas Hill Country or are considering purchasing one, you need to know about cedar management.
Yes, you read that correctly. Cedar management, not cedar eradication.
Cedar is a nasty species that often exasperates ranchers, as it readily thrives and reproduces, blanketing pastureland and rangeland, and causing the native ecosystem to spin out of balance.
The first instinct of many ranchers is to clearcut the living daylights out of the cedar stands on their properties and be done with the annoying coniferous invaders.
That may, indeed, prove the best solution for you and your ranch. But often it’s not.
The more you know about cedar and cedar management, the more likely you will make the correct choice of how to control cedar on your land
Why Remove Cedar?
If you want to be a good steward of your land, it is essential to establish goals and priorities for management.
Some typical goals include improved pasture land for grazing of livestock or improved rangeland for conservation and support of different species of wildlife. Improvement of water resources is another goal for many landowners, keeping in mind that a mature cedar tree can consume almost twice the water of an equivalent-sized oak tree.
It is not difficult to manage your ranch land properly and can be a very enjoyable activity especially when you get to see the land respond and flourish under your good stewardship.
Each of these goals involves a system of practices that almost always include some sort of cedar removal program. As already noted, cedar will reproduce like unwelcome weeds in a garden, throwing the entire pastureland and rangeland ecosystem into disarray.
The good news is that with careful planning and attention to the specific needs of your property, you can maintain, or restore, the health of your ranch’s ecosystem.
If your property is under wildlife management, then there are other factors to weigh. For example, you can cut certain areas of cedar and not burn or mulch right away so that the brush piles can be left in place for smaller game such as quail. If quail is a target species in the landowner’s wildlife plan, then this can be a very big deal.
Other factors to consider are the methods of cedar removal. The landowner’s overall plan must include the long-term recovery of the land. Certain methods provide better recovery times than others
What is Cedar?
Although many Texas ranchers view cedar much like home gardeners view stinkweed and crabgrass, “nuking” the evergreen trees is not always the best choice for effective management of your ranch property.
There are many factors to consider when developing a plan for cedar management. The density and size of the cedar trees, as well as the terrain, soil conditions, and even the prevailing winds, all need to be taken into account.
When I evaluate a stretch of ranch property with the intent of developing an effective management plan, I weigh a variety of considerations. For example, what is the goal of the landowner with whom I am working? Is the rancher concerned with wildlife habitat or livestock? If we are thinking about wildlife, what is our target species?
“The ecosystem also has a diversity of grass and forbs providing valuable ground cover, reducing the risk of erosion, and maintaining the ecosystem.”
Why not clear cut all the cedar?
When wildlife species have the availability of land that is not clear cut, it can provide valuable food and shelter. On most ranch properties I visit, it is unnecessary to clear all of the cedar and usually not the best choice to maintain the property’s environmental quality.
The Texas woodlands have a unique forest ecology that bears closer examination. The land supports different combinations of plant species depending on the terrain, slope, and soil. The ecosystem also has a diversity of grass and forbs providing valuable ground cover, reducing the risk of erosion, and maintaining the ecosystem.
If you are on non-sloping land with your goals being optimum grass production for livestock, you may consider clearing all the cedar.
One potential result of clear-cutting is exposing the desired hardwood trees to weakened ground structure and therefore damage from the wind. I have seen ranches where, when the first strong storm came through after the cedars were removed, numerous hardwoods that were no longer protected laid over from the wind.
For more information on Cedar management options, erosion issues, etc,
Download full report here: Ask Lem - Cedar Management in the Texas Hill Country