As I drive down the dirt roads of Arkansas and Oklahoma, passing farms and ranches, I see fences that appear as old as the dirt itself. Often times, sections of these fence lines will be replaced by cedar trees, briar patches, and other brush. It is a common sight when fence and pasture maintenance has been neglected over the years. These fence lines are often favorite hangouts for snakes and varmints that I could care less about having a chance meeting with. These are the spots where cows will find a crawl through or an old oak will fall over during a thunderstorm.
Other than being a hide out for snakes, these cedars take up gallons of water and often encroach on the more valuable grazing lands. I never really thought of how much they take away from valuable grazing until my trip to Wyoming and my rides through those mountain pastures. Instead of cedars, Wyoming ranchers must manage Junipers. Although different these plants act in the same way, in that they take away water from the surrounding area. Working Ranch magazine had an interesting article on the topic this month (the March 2011 issue not yet posted online).
The article explains how better control of rangeland fires has taken away from the natural control of the Junipers and has led to the plants taking over grazing lands in Oregon. I did not realize it, but according to this a 12-inch diameter Juniper can take up to 35 gallons of water from the ground each day. That is quite a bit of water for a region that may only receive 12 inches of moisture annually.
The location where I was in Wyoming had used prescribed fires to control the spread of these Junipers and reclamation of grazing lands was in progress. It is a sight to see the difference clearing away a few trees can make in improving grazing land.
Many accuse farmers and ranchers of mismanaging this country’s rangeland, but I will have to disagree. Among the numerous other management techniques we have to maintain and improve our natural rangelands, ranchers work to control nuisance plants like cedars and junipers is actually improving these habitats. It’s either let us do our work or go back to letting wildfires have their way with things. Pretty sure some California homeowners would have something to say about that.
I cannot tell you how much time has been spent clearing cedars from fence lines and burning them to prevent their regrowth. I know the plants make great wind breaks, but why can’t we have something a little more manageable? Do you have problems with cedars, junipers, or similar plants that just seem like “weeds”? Let me know.