Tulsa World: A 'pox'

September 13, 2012
In The News

The Tulsa World
By: Tulsa World Editorial Writers
August 13, 2012

U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Oklahoma, says the eastern red cedar infestation is "a pox on Oklahoma."

Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, speaks from experience. He's been a farmer longer than he's been a lawmaker, and his family has farmed Oklahoma since before statehood.

The oily, invasive trees, long a scourge to farmers and ranchers, have drawn attention of late because of their role in the disastrous state wildfires that have burned more than 100,000 acres and destroyed hundreds of homes in recent days. In times of severe drought and triple-digit temperatures, cedars ignited by a grass fire can explode into balls of flame.

They even contribute to drought because their roots soak up 50 to 60 gallons of water a day. And even in normal times they make it harder for farmers to till their land.

The trees are spreading rapidly across the state because nature's traditional controls - recurring fires - are largely prevented now.

Clearly, something needs to be done. A state Senate interim committee next month will discuss a program that would use inmate labor to clear the trees on both private and public land.

But legislation that would provide incentives, including tax breaks, to landowners who employ eradication efforts or exploit the eastern red cedar's commercial potential died in the Legislature the past two sessions. The problem was that those bills were authored by a Democrat and precious little Democrat-sponsored legislation is even considered by the Republican Legislature.

Wildfires and the related cedar infestation problem would not seem to be partisan issues. Perhaps in the wake of the recent disastrous fires the next Legislature will give serious consideration to bills that address the problem.