Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Texas’ Most Hated Tree: How Drought, Wildfires Renewed Interest in Cedar Eradication

Cedar Photo courtesy flickr.com/79666107@N00 bullseye image edited by KUT News.

The Ashe juniper goes by several names.

When people complain about cedar trees in Texas, they’re usually talking about allergies: the dreaded “cedar fever” that makes life a nightmare for millions of sufferers throughout large swaths of the state. But at the Texas Capital last week, lawmakers were talking about cedars for other, very elemental, reasons: water and fire.

Ashe Junipers, commonly called “cedar trees” in Texas, do a good job of drinking one and spreading the other according to testimony before the House Committee on Agriculture and Livestock.

Some studies say mature cedars can pull about 33 gallons of water a day from the soil. With lawmakers trying to figure out how to keep water in the ground for drinking, agriculture and (let’s not forget) oil and gas drillling, the thirsty trees are being viewed as more and more of a problem.

“That water that might have been available for soil moister. And groundwater infiltration is also deteriorated,”  Ken Rainwater (yes Rainwater), told StateImpact Texas.

Rainwater, the director of the Water Resources Center at Texas Tech University, gave testimony to the Committee on Cedar removal. Judging from the response of the committee it looks like those who want to eradicate cedar to save water may have found some allies in suburbanites concerned about the trees for another reason.

“They’re dangerous!” Paul Workman, the Republican State Representative from southwestern Travis County, told StateImpact Texas after the hearing.

Workman and others say the tree contributes to wildfire dangers because of the chemical make up of their wood. That’s a concern especially in the regions like Travis county where developers are building into once rural parts of the state.  Workman wants to ramp up cedar removal in his district. Though that might be a challenge. The budget for the state’s brush removal program was cut by half last legislative session, and may face further cuts again next year.

“I favor putting more money into this cause it’s a water issue for me and a fire issue,” said Workman.

Less Cedar a Long Shot

But voices calling for cedar eradication may be drowned out by higher profile concerns.

The Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, the state agency that handles brush removal grants, is dealing with the fallout of other cuts to its budget. Those include the slashing of funds last legislative session for Texas Water Conservation Districts, and the fact that the Board doesn’t have enough money for maintenance and repairs on Texas dams.

Added to the funding challenge is the fact that not everyone agrees about the threat cedar poses.

A quick online search reveals numerous pro-cedar sites dedicated to “debunking” anti-cedar “myths.” (Here’s one example). Meaning we’ll probably be hearing more from both sides as the legislative session gets underway next January.

And that’s right around the same time as Cedar allergy season.


  • April G.

    Ashe Junipers might be a problem to some. But the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler, a species that breeds only in South Central Texas, needs them for nesting. http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/species/gcw/

    • Dusty Bottoms

      Yeah well who cares about a bird when your families house burns down from natural draught and added draught from cedars…..just saying

      • emcgreevy

        Green cedar is only moderately flammable. The most flammable plants are the bunch grasses. The main thing is to not let fine fuels and ladder fuels build up under ANY trees.

        • emcgreevy

          Dead piles of cut cedar are very flammable. But then, so are any dead piles of brush.

    • txagsw

      If you replace them with other natural shrubs they will adapt. Cedar is not native, it is the result of over grazing of fenced in livestock

      • HM

        Actually, Ashe Juniper *is* native. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juniperus_ashei

      • emcgreevy

        It’s more native than we are…been here at least since the end of the last ice age.

      • Lamar

        When the Germans came in the 1800 s there were large stands of ancient cedar.

    • But they are also known to nest in oak trees and cedar elms.

      • emcgreevy

        The warbler ONLY uses the peeling bark from older mountain cedars. It will nest in any tree.

    • Thanks for link

  • J

    More fire = less juniper.
    Less agriculture = more prairie
    More prairie = less juniper and more water intercepted instead of running off
    More water intercepted = more groundwater recharge

    Fire (Rx burns) and prairies work together, nourishing soil and cleaning our drinking water.
    Farming and oil & gas drilling don’t. It’s that simple.

  • NK

    I study this tree as an undergrad bio student. There is now evidence to suggest the junipers are a net positive tree. They hold back soil which supports water percolation. In fact, juniper clearing causes much more damage.

    • Dean Morales

      Are you nuts? Ashe Junipers poison the soil around them so nothing else will
      grow.. /the soil erodes awayh leaving useless cleechy…only ash junipers will

      • emcgreevy

        Nope, the tree is NOT allelopathic. It was suggested it was by Benjamin Tharp around the mid 1900s. Updated research conducted via Dr. Fred Smeins at TAMU proved the litter is not toxic. It is just very matted under cedars, which makes it difficult for seeds to penetrate. Once the tree grows up or we prune it, animals get under, start digging and planting those seeds.

        • txagsw

          So sad to see total cutting of the junipers. Biosystems with one tree species, which i am seeing in and around the hill country is not good. I’m glad to hear of the update on junipers. we are finding this to be true on our place. i refused to cut the junipers, except around the house and trim up the bottoms on some of the larger ones, because i felt it was going to cause erosion before any other trees or shrubs i planted took off. Glad to hear i was thinking right.

    • I totally agree with you

  • J

    The problem with the increase in junipers, especially in the arid and semi-arid rangelands in Texas, is that it increases canopy interception of rainfall. The intercepted rainfall is evaporated before it comes into contact with the ground, and as much as 50% of water loss in rangelands can be directly attributed to an increase in juniper species.

    To increase water infiltration into the soil and to recharge groundwater aquifers, we have to decrease juniper. In addition, the decrease in juniper will also increase herbaceous cover which can further increase water infiltration into the soil.

    As far as juniper for wildlife habitat, 2-5 trees per acre is all that is needed; any more than that and it imparts a negative effect on many ecological processes. The less juniper the better for grassland birds – they like wide open spaces.

    Herbaceous plants, especially the native perennial deep-rooted grasses, can hold far more soil than juniper ever can, and the grasses actually improve water infiltration – juniper doesn’t.

    Reduction of juniper will improve herbaceous cover and grassland bird habitat, as well as improve water quality and soil carbon levels. Water quality always follows soil carbon.

    Fire suppression is one of the many degrading agents of water quality.

    • Texas Farmer

      TRUE !1

    • Texas Farmer

      what about sigamore trees ? any good quality for having them around a spring ?

      • emcgreevy

        Definitely. Deep rooted trees stabilize banks and move waters deep to recharge groundwaters. Their canopies and leaf litter also reduce rainfall impact. The dense network of grass roots filters water and stabilizes banks. When allowed to grow dense and thick, their foliage also reduces rainfall impact. We need layers of trees and grass, especially in an area characterized by flash floods.

    • emcgreevy

      The interception research conducted on cedars was conducted in full sun. This severely skewed the results. Other research conducted with actual rains showed the interception numbers to be MUCH lower and not much different from other trees. On the other hand, the delay of through fall does take longer. And this is very important is a region that experiences flash floods.

    • emcgreevy

      The reason why we have lower spring flows is because of we have done to the landscape. We have caused the erosion of a tremendous amount of soil and we have cut and cut and cut every tree to the point where most trees are no longer old-growth, but are younger, more vigorously growing plants. The only pioneer plant we have that can grow on eroded caliche is the juniper. It also grows as part of old-growth woodlands. Cedar brakes, that consisted of mostly old-growth brakes, were dominated by the junipers. Yet springs flowed and the wildlife diversity was incredible (included forest species such as jaguars and an abundance of black bears). More than 2-5 junipers per acre are needed, mainly because its bark is the most desired nesting material in the Hill Country…and not just by warblers. Once the bark is stripped, it dies. Also, the fruits provide an important source of winter carbs for wildlife. Some herbabceous plants might hold more soil than junipers…but junipers make more soil than any other plant in the HC. I’m not saying don’t thin junipers, but you grossly underestimate their ecological importance.

    • emcgreevy

      Where is the world are you getting your information?? lol

  • James Williams

    I live and work in the middle of it, they are of some benefit especially in areas of oak decline. To put in simple terms they are too much of a good thing. I have a seasonal creek and they will suck it dry, natural springs in Texas have all but dried up due in part I believe to the cedars,and they put too much alkaline in the soil, and if you’ve ever burned a brush pile of them the fire hazard is obvious.

    • emcgreevy

      Junipers did not dry up our springs…we did. We clearcut all the old growth trees and allowed overgrazing. This degraded our soils to the point where they can no longer sustain both plants and surface springs. Also, the trees are now mostly young. The younger a tree, the more water it uses…that’s across the board with any tree species.

      You are the first person I’ve heard say junipers make the soil alkaline. On the contrary…their litter is acidic and acts to balance the alkalinity of the limestone.

      As for flammability, yes they are very much so when dead and dry. But when green, not so much. Land managers that do control burns actually use the green low shrubby junipers as fire breaks.

  • ashejuniper

    I’m looking for a job. Would you like to hire me as a proofreader?

  • Rb



    If you dont like the habitat you live in then MOVE.

    “…water in the ground for drinking, agriculture and (let’s not forget) oil and gas drillling…”

    More like OIL AND GAS DRILLING. That’s the only reason this is being talked about, because Texas is a central hub of gasoline production in the US and those oil guys would stop at no cost to squeeze every drop of dollars out of the earth as they possibly can.

    Lets not let the Cedar tree be another victim of wreckless capitalism.

  • Laurence Almand

    Go on the internet and check out Selah/Bamberger ranch for an illustration of how removal of the “cedar” ashe juniper can improve a ranch and also improve wildlife habitat. Before the white man came to Texas and suppressed natural fires, the frequent wildfires preserved the grasslands and kept the juniper in check. The Bamberger ranch used prescribed burns to eliminate much of the juniper, and has restored the natural grasslands.

    • txagsw

      Spanish and Mexicans were here long before white Europeans and they over grazed, as well which allowed cedars to go forth and multiply. Let’s leave ethnicity out please.

      • Dean Morales

        hey cowboy,,,junipers were spread not by overgrazing but by ranchers trucking in hay balesfor feed…Bales that contained the seeds from areas already infested by junipers….

        • emcgreevy

          Seriously?? lol You do know that fossilized Ashe juniper pollen has been found in the Hill Country. Junipers have been here at least 14K years old.

      • emcgreevy

        Nope, it was the mostly “white” cowboys and absentee landowners that allowed the overgrazing. Also, everyone thought the land would rebound like it did on the east coast. But, things grow much slower here, so it hasn’t. On top of that, we get droughts and flash floods. Coupled with mass clearcutting of our junipers to make telegraph poles, railroad ties and cedar posts from here to California, we lost most of our soil. The land still hasn’t recovered because we won’t let it.

    • emcgreevy

      Wildfires in the Hill Country were sporadic and not that common. The terrain, rocks and numerous rivers/creeks would not allow for it. The Apaches did not practice regular burning (according to missionaries in the 1700s). Maybe the Comanches did, but not likely since they were a mountain tribe. There were fires from the coastal prairies to the blackland prairies, and then west of the Hill Country proper (Balcones Canyonlands, Llano Uplift).

      The HC vegetation more than 150 years ago was more of a mosaic of vegetation types. About half was covered with trees. However…these trees were mostly old-growth and the soil was rich and spongy. And the springs flowed…even from “cedar covered hilltops.”

      Bamberger’s work is mostly about figuring out what to do with cedar thickets (about 100% young thickety cedar…the type you can’t walk through). These are nature’s soil building machines. That’s it. We either need to let nature do her thing or learn to work with what she’s given us. Controlled fires can be used as part of a healthy management scheme.

  • I use these cedar trees to build things in landscapes such as swings, arbors, pergolas, benches, etc. Sanded and sealed, or just plain raw, these trees are gorgeous!! Also, after milling this wood I have used the saw dust as a soil amendment for plants requiring acidic soils and the saw dust NATURALLY worked well. I think exploring the opportunities for the Juniperus ashei would be a better choice than eradication. Anyone with property near Austin, Texas who wants to get rid of these trees please contact me!!
    Derek Balderrama – LDAF Horticulturist 3945

    • kw

      I agree on the beauty of cedar wood, however I live in Sonora and have plenty. Come to our property and cut all the cedar you can haul off.

      We trying to get our property back to a healthier state by growing native plants and grasses. This will take numerous years because there is very little else growing on the property now besides Cedar and cactus due to over stocking and drought.

      To get anything to grow water has to get to the plant; nothing grows under a Cedar because very little water makes it to the ground under a Cedar.

      There are numerous other native bushes, trees and grasses that make good homes, shelter and food for birds and other wildlife when the Cedar is kept in check. Those natives also hold the soil in place while using much less water per plant, leaving more water for the underground aquifer.

      So, yes come and take all you want….Cedar and cactus.

      • emcgreevy

        You need to tweak your soils if you’re ever going to get more grasses. Turn your cut brush into charcoal (either on site or at a biochar facility). The process sequesters carbon from the air so it gets back into our soils where it belongs. Spread the carbon across your land. Then spray the land with bacteria based compost tea (such as manure). The bacteria will feed on the carbon and the grasses will feed on the bacteria. Woody plants support fungus, not bacteria. And now your grasses will have the edge they need over the woody plants.

  • Neftali

    I have some very old cedars in my property that look very nice, however, because they drink so much water I’m trying to eradicate them, but a few. They multiply like crazy. I spray frequently to kill the new ones. I recently checked a creek in the back of my property and Lol, it looked like a nursery of Cedar trees. Eradication of these is not easy is has to be an all out war.

    • emcgreevy

      Junipers “drink” very little water compared to most trees. The 33 gallons of water per day was merely an estimate taken of one 10′ juniper. It was a loose number and not verified. Yet it’s been taken as gospel. Since then it has been proven that live oaks use more water. The older junipers (at least 50 years old) use much less water (more heartwood and less dense and deeper roots). In summer, juniper roots dessicate. This means the previous water use studies taken in the summer were just measuring water evaporating from the tree, not the soil. Live oaks, on the other hand, close their stomata but continue to use water. Most “stick” junipers coming up with a woodland should be allowed to remain since those will grow up to be the good, straight, tall junipers.

    • Robert R Kirby

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d9179c16a27678b849b35e852de9d2963ac9d7413808b9565dad58e639994003.png They kill easy with round up – 5 gallons mixed with 10 gallons of diesel did this in 3 weeks. Better yet haven’t had to mow my property in 3 months. Got rid of those pesky cabbage eating dear tool.

      • Robert R Kirby

        Nef I can bring my sprayer by if you like the look. Its infinitely beyond zero scape.

      • emcgreevy

        nice moonscape…that’s fucked up.

    • emcgreevy

      Nef, what makes you think older cedars drink more water than younger cedars?

  • Lane Chaffin

    the fastest way to ruin land is to cut the cedar. you remove the shade, your other trees will die, your dirt will dry out and wash away. it doesn’t steal water, it preserves it. you cut it, your wildlife has no cover. cedar ie ashe juniper or whatever you want to call it, has been in central texas as long as man has. this has been proven by scientist examining the earliest peoples who lived in this area. besides being an environmentally beneficial tree cedar is also evergreen and an attractive tree. it’s also valuable for wood and oil. see http://www.texascedaroil.com/

  • Rebecca Chen

    I’ve been reading through all of these comments, and they make me really sad. It just reminds me, again, how we humans are terrible for the world.

  • Tommy Ogren

    The Ashe Junipers are indeed native plants, and they don’t use any more water than other plants. Ashe Juniper is dioecious, separate-sexed; only the male trees produce the allergenic pollen….the female trees trap this pollen.
    My proposal is that the State of Texas pass a law making it illegal to cut any female (berry-bearing) juniper trees. If we only cut the males, then each year we will be reducing the amount of trees that are shedding the pollen.
    Likewise, removing male trees will make more room for the female trees, and they will get larger, and thus be able to trap more pollen.

    • Robert R Kirby

      That would be sexist. Just burn em all and put up plastic trees imported from China. That way you won’t have any allergens and think of the jobs it would create, re-arranging, cleaning etc. Plastic trees don’t use any water.

      • Tommy Ogren

        Are you just dumb, or what?

        • Robert R Kirby

          People who call others with different views dumb are really the dumb ones

          • Tommy Ogren

            Sorry, dumb wasn’t exactly the best word for you…..perhaps simply opinionated and ignorant would have made more sense.

          • Robert R Kirby

            So let me guess you kill a perfectly healthy tree each year to decorate your home for the holiday because you can. Then act like wanting to protect life and trees is dumb? I would much rather see more live trees in the wild and more plastic trees in homes. You though are probably ok with open pit mines, and clear cut living forests. Ugly over indulgent consumer.

          • Tommy Ogren

            Ah, so you like those plastic Christmas trees, do you? Somehow that doesn’t surprise me at all.

          • Robert R Kirby

            Yes rather a non living temporary decoration than needlessly cut and kill a live tree. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8585c55b8b0285ebb69cdedf945623db932e371efb549e77d871eadda2f68afd.jpg

            Consequence of your choice of live tree. You only see the tree in your home. Image is of what cost nature paid for your indulgence.

  • Chuck Buscaglia

    Let’s talk about the real issue the politicians are skirting. If these huge corporations paid their share of the taxes we would have plenty of money to do everything we need to do. If all that money was put into the average person’s hands the amount of taxes they pay would cover everything. We could dedicate areas for cedar trees to thrive and save the birds. Install fire hydrant around the area just in case. Etc etc etc. There’s a million Solutions provided the money is there. But whatever.

    • Robert R Kirby

      Most corporations probably pay way more taxes than someone with this crazy out look. Everyone should give up one cup of Liberal Starbucks coffee and send the savings to the Arbor Society.

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