Cedar trees taking over Kansas grassland make wildfires harder to control

A specialist with the USDA says the cedar tree population has grown around Kansas exponentially.
Published: Mar. 31, 2022 at 4:16 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - It’s becoming a serious problem in Kansas. Trees, especially cedars are taking over what was once grassland. That’s causing multiple issues, most dangerously, making wildfires harder to control.

Eyewitness News discussed the cedar-tree problem with a specialist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA Rangeland Management Specialist Dusty Tacha with the department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service compared the situation to grandparents that don’t see their grandchildren as often as they’d like and when they do see them, they realize how much they’ve grown. He said that’s exactly what’s happening with the trees around Kansas. And that’s have an ecological effect.

A map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service shows exponential growth of trees throughout the Great Plains. This is causing a lot of concern.

“This has been a healthy 100 years in the making of fire suppression and introduction of seed and promotion of tree growth in an area where trees really shouldn’t be,” Tacha said.

Tacha said the trees are not only affecting wildfires, but grassland, the animals that live in grassland, ground water quality and more.

He said there won’t be a quick fix.

“They’ll cut them or stack them or maybe use a mulcher and mechanically remove trees. But we know we still have all of that seed in the ground that’s sitting there and could sprout and likely will once you remove the mother trees because now you’ve released the competition for sunlight,” Tacha said. “So, the seeds will sprout and grow. Fire, prescribed burning, is a very big part of this and it has to be a tool used in the solution.”

Tacha said a program called Great Plains Grassland Initiative, or GPGI, focuses on areas of Kansas grassland with the best chance of survival. He said the mechanical removal of trees and prescribed burns make it easier to maintain the grassland.

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