14 March 2008

Cedar Removal Underway at Cherry County Wildlife Refuges

Special funding of $10,000 from the regional office of the Fish and Wildlife Service will be used to remove unwanted cedar trees from grassland areas at the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge.

Planning is currently underway to define the places where the unwanted trees will be removed, said Todd Frerichs, assistant manager of the Fort Niobrara-Valentine refuge complex. A contractor will be hired to carry out the work this summer.

“Valentine refuge is an important sandhills prairie and wetland area, and removing cedar trees is essential to retaining grassland conditions for native birds,” Frerichs said. “Cedars reduce the quality of the prairie.”

Mechanical clearing is required since many of the invasive trees have grown too large for control by burning, he said. The cedar trees are spread out over a broader landscape, and the supplemental funding allows rehabilitation of an expanse of prairie.

Cedar trees were historically very rare at this tract which spreads across more than 70,000 acres, and is a significant migratory bird refuge in the region. [Cedar removal area in the Niobrara Valley near Valentine]

Cedar removal has also been underway at Fort Niobrara NWR northeast of Valentine. During recent months refuge staff have removed cedar trees in the Niobrara River corridor from the entrance bridge over the river and southward to near Borman Bridge Wildlife Management Area, a state owned tract.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission also helped to remove invasive cedars on the south end of Fort Niobrara refuge, adjacent to Borman Bridge WMA, Frerichs said. The state agency used a shear mounted on a skid-steer loader to remove trees at the wildlife area, and were able to also do additional work on the adjacent federal lands.

“Since the Big Rock fire about two years ago, people in the area are more aware of fire as a danger, and more receptive to the clearing of unwanted cedar trees,” said Frerichs. “We have received several positive comments regarding our removal work on the refuge along Highway 12, east of the golf course.”

Planning is now underway on how to best remove the invasive trees elsewhere in the Niobrara River valley at the refuge. An extensive growth of these trees has developed adjacent to the river and pose a threat to the desired oak, pine and cottonwood trees.

If a wild fire was to occur, said Frerichs, the large amount of accumulated fuel would burn so hot that it would likely destroy the desirable trees.

Portions of the area wanting to be eventually cleared are within the wilderness area of the refuge, and a special justification would need to be prepared to conduct cedar removal in these areas. Elsewhere on the refuge, buffalo have been effective in inhibiting the spread of cedar in areas where these animals graze. Regular controlled burns have also inhibited the spread of cedars into prairie areas.

Refuge staff are also considering how to best remove unwanted cedar trees invading the prairie tracts at the Seier NWR, south of Bassett.

"It takes a lot of work to remove invasive cedar trees,” Frerichs said, “but if we can find enough time and funding we can achieve a goal fairly quickly in an area and make a difference in re-establishing the desired grassland and woodland conditions.”

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