The War on Cedar

It’s greedy and invasive, choking my oaks and killing my soil. It’s all over my land. So what’s stopping me from getting rid of it?

I hate cedar. Especially this time of year, when central Texas cedars—one of the most prolifically pollinating plants in North America—dramatically release copious airborne pollens in explosive puffs of orange-red smoke whenever cold winds blow from the north. Like gnarly little fishhooks, the pollens invade my nostrils and sinuses. Before long I’m sniffling and vacant, sick and tired. I hate cedar fever.

Since I moved to my nine-acre spread near the Hill Country town of Wimberley four years ago, cedar has become much more than a seasonal pain. In fact, not long after I bought my land, I discovered a different kind of cedar fever, a consuming obsession with the cursed tree. Cedar is an invader of grasslands and a horrendous water hog. It is low in nutritive value, unpalatable to cattle, and altogether unpleasant. It’s well-nigh impossible to get rid of. And it’s everywhere. Almost every one of the decent oaks on my property appeared to be dying a slow death, surrounded by a gaggle of young cedars choking them out, like a group of teenage street punks mugging a senior citizen. Forget mesquite, Johnson grass, sticker burs, and prickly pears. Cedar, as it exists in the Hill Country, deserves the reputation as the vilest plant thriving in Texas.

Well, okay, it does have some positive characteristics. Cedar stays green year-round. Cedar bushes provide natural privacy fencing, blocking out the views of my neighbors’ homes (and vice versa), and they prevent erosion on steep slopes. Old-growth cedar provides cover for all sorts of wildlife and the habitat for a couple of rare, endangered Neotropical migrant songbirds that spend their summers in Central Texas—the golden-cheeked warbler and the black-capped vireo. This last fact, in some people’s minds, is the worst thing of all about cedar, and it has been the cause of a lot of trouble and misinformation in the war on cedar.

I’m a city boy. When I bought my nine acres, I was determined to be a responsible steward, to do the right thing, to disturb the land as little as possible. But cedar challenged my values. I wanted it out of there, by any means necessary. The debate to remove or not to remove became the basis for domestic squabbles between my wife and me, turning into great philosophical entreaties that grew even more spirited after my neighbor, whose cleared grassland resembles a thick, lush savannah, asked me what I was going to do with all those gnarly cedar bushes, especially those that crowded over our fence line.

Cedar, I was learning, is a vegetative Vietnam—it’s hard enough figuring out the identity of the enemy. Is it the government, which in the name of protecting a couple of birds seemed to be telling me what I could and could not do with my land? Is it the warbler and the vireo? Is it overgrazing and lousy land

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