Sunday, February 05, 2006

Skepticism

A funny thing happened as I researched a post full of fire and brimstone about the "Scourge of Central Texas", the cedar tree, and how it invaded the state from outside and drained all the water from us. How it crushed the other species that were here before, destroying the landscape and native wildlife. The danger posed by its pernicious and explosive reproduction that outpaced all attempts to rein it in.

The funny thing that happened as I researched all this was, I discovered none of it was true.


  • They're not even really "cedar" trees, they're Ashe junipers.

  • They're not an exotic species, they're native to Texas at least since before the last Ice Age.

  • They don't drink water at the prodigious rate they're advertised as. They choke back in dry months and ramp up in wet months, but the rate of consumption isn't that different from oaks.

  • They used to be restricted to the highlands, but they've moved into every niche because humans have over grazed and over cleared the other species out.

The first few months on this property were spent in the relentless pursuit and destruction of these trees. We were out there with chainsaws and hand blades hacking them down, determined to bring the water table back up because we believed the prevalent sterotype.

I hate it when I do this kind of thing. I consider myself a skeptic, demanding some kind of evidence before believing in something, and trying to remind myself at all times that I could be wrong about most everything. That I bought into the cedar myth for so long makes me angry, especially when it would have been so easy to check it out.

I still plan on clearing out the fields, because they do take relentless advantage once they get a foothold, and the horses need room to run. But I'm going to leave quite a few on the ridges and among the denser growth in the back of the place.

Hopefully every time I see Ashe junipers from now on (which is every day because they are, literally, everywhere around here) I can use it as a reminder to think before I act and to confirm before I believe.

For more about the Ashe juniper and how the misunderstandings about them became so prevalent, see http://members.toast.net/juniper/Ashe%20juniper.html.

4 comments:

The Cow Whisperer said...

Jeff, this lady is as full of sh-- as a box of Pampers after a Chili Dog buffet.

I am a former graduate student at Texas A&M, studying range management. I gave up on the degree because I realized it got you government jobs that pay $14,000 a year. However, I can tell you from personal experience that cedars/ashe junipers kill any opportunity for grass to grow under or around their root system. This leads to easy erosion, with nothing to hold soil in place.

No, the only good things about these trees are:
1) Good fence posts because they rot at the pace of uranium half-life.
2) They die easier than the much maligned, misunderstood, and yet still evil Mesquite tree.
3) They burn like they were born for it.

If you want to give your topsoil to the next parcel down the hill, go ahead and leave 'em. I on the other hand, will not ever believe this Cindy Sheehan of Cedar.

Jeff Hebert said...

All good points Russell, and I don't think she would dispute them. They're fine up on the rockier highlands where there isn't much growing anyway, but in fields they definitely suppress grasses. Plus they make you blow green chunks out of your nose and that's never good.

None of which invalidates the point that I thought they were non-native water-guzzlers, and they're not.

We still hate them, of course, and that's the nice thing about them -- they have so many things to hate about them that you can pick and choose!

Jill Phenix Avila said...

Yeah.. um this is one person's opinion… Cedar is what I was diagnosed as being allergic to, Cedar is what is pollinating right now and you can see them on your property.. This lady is a joke
Some sites say they drink a lot of water every day..some think they only drink a lot of water during the hot months ;) Tis true that Junipers are Cedars ... the Cedars we hate are called Mountain Cedars.
Most sources say that they were not as predominant in Texas before humans changed the land by ranching and farming.. also lack of wild fires (as scary as that sounds) help the cedar procreate like bunnies!
what I am very disturbed by is Russell almost becoming a t-sipping aggie!! ;) j/k

Denise said...

Nice that "the cow whisperer" said cedar trees are good for fence posts, because that's what we're using them for on our property in Cat Spring -- fence posts and as a roof for a pole barn to protect tractors, etc. They're straight and long, and we don't mind cutting them down because of their reputation.

We are replanting live oaks wherever possible. We were quite surprised by the prices for live oaks -- one nursery wanted $70 for a small tree, and another one out in the country has them for $12.50. That's quite a spread, but we'd like to plant native Texas trees and grasses. Besides, we have beautiful wildflowers in the spring and wouldn't do anything to mess those up. Nothing like a field of bluebonnets dotted with Indian paintbrush to lift your spirits.