Oklahoma launches pilot program to study ways to stop red cedar tree infestations

Oklahoma’s war on infestations of red cedar trees took another step with the signing of a bill to create a more than $3 million pilot program to explore solutions.

House Bill 2239 creates the Terry Peach North Canadian Watershed Restoration Act, named after former Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Terry Peach who died last year. It was signed into law by the governor Friday.

Okeene Rep. Mike Dobrinski is eager to see the results.

“Eastern red cedars and other invasive trees are harming our environment and our economy,” Dobrinski said. “This program will help us determine solutions to protect our water supply, our grazing lands and wildlife habitats, and will help us reduce the risk of wildfires.”

Dobrinski credited and thanked other lawmakers for their help on the legislation including Reps. Carl Newton, R-Cherokee, and Kenton Patzkowsky, R-Balko; Sens. Darcy Jech, R-Kingfisher, Roland Pederson, R-Burlington, and Casey Murdock, R-Felt; as well as former state Sen. Don Williams; and Trey Lam, executive director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.

Trey Lam, executive director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission called it a big step in addressing the invasive cedars.

Lam said the rapid growth of cedar brush intensifies drought, reduces water levels and fuels intense wildfires every year. While there is no one single short term solution, the three-prong approach of research, eradication by utilizing prescribed burning and mechanically creating brush-free zones around communities and rural infrastructure – starting in the North Canadian River Basin – will provide the Conversation Commission a framework for attacking cedars and invasive brush across the state.

Included in the budget for the Oklahoma Conservation Commission this year is an appropriation of almost $3.3 million to start the cost-sharing pilot program. Dobrinski said he’s confident the investment will produce a return on investment. The commission will work in cooperation with landowners, state agencies and other political subdivisions and cost-share expenses incurred in the program.

HB2239 passed with an emergency clause, making it effective immediately.