Clearing cedar can provide benefits to water supply, wildlife, and livestock. But proper grassland management and follow up treatment of re-growth are of vital importance to maintaining these benefits.
This was one the important points raised during brush management and land stewardship presentations at a recent meeting of the newly formed South Llano Watershed Alliance.
About forty landowners gathered in Junction on March 26th to hear presentations from Phillip Wright of the Natural Resources Conservation Service and David Wolfe of Environmental Defense Fund.
Both speakers discussed the importance of considering geology, soils, and slope before clearing Ashe juniper (cedar) from one’s land. Clearing cedar from slopes greater than ten percent usually just increases soil erosion. “If there is no soil to begin with, clearing juniper will have little benefit”, noted Wolfe, a Conservation Scientist who has counseled landowners on brush management project throughout Texas. “There is simply little place for grass to grow if the soil is gone. One is probably better off leaving the juniper in place to help prevent further erosion.”
Clearing juniper to increase water yields works best over karst (cavernous) limestone, like those found on the Edwards Plateau. Phillip Wright, a Range Management Specialist, has been involved with water yield studies in Seco Creek near Hondo. These studies found that removing about 85% of the juniper in an eight-acre watershed resulted in increases in springflow of 25%.
Wright noted that there is still much debate in the scientific community regarding increases in water yield from clearing Ashe juniper. However, he did reference other studies that have shown that juniper removal in small watersheds has resulted in increases in annual water yield of about 40,000 gallons per acre cleared of juniper.
Mr. Wright distributed copies of a recent Texas A&M study, “Effects of Brush Management on Water Yields” (available on-line from the Texas Water Resources Institute: twri.tamu.edu).
David Wolfe’s discussed how the patterns in which cedar is removed can create important transition zones for wildlife. Rather than cutting along sharp lines, he noted that it is better to thin the juniper along the edge to create a savannah or wooded grassland, thus creating better protection for wildlife from predators.
Wolfe also raised the point that juniper trees, along with grasslands, may be considered an asset for carbon sequestration credits in the near future. He sees such a trading program likely to be underway in a couple of years.
The mission of the South Llano Watershed Alliance is “to preserve and enhance the South Llano River and adjoining watersheds by encouraging land and water stewardship through collaboration, education, and community participation”. Additional information about the Alliance can be found at: www.texaswatermatters.org/southllanoriver.htm.