As I drove home down Hwy. 199 the other day, I thought to myself, "What if all the land area covered by Eastern red cedar was covered with thistles?" Since most thistles are listed as noxious weeds in Oklahoma and most other states as well, I believe there would be a great amount of action taken to control them. In my opinion, cedars are every bit as noxious as thistles, if not worse, and they are invading our land.
Of course, fire can be very cost effective for controlling cedar. However, for various reasons, it is not always an option. Much work has been done on chemical control, but it can be a very expensive option. This summer, the Noble Foundation's Ag Division hired Paul Smith, a summer intern from Tennessee, to evaluate several mechanical methods of cedar control.
The first was a propane-fueled flame thrower. The thoughts were to either brown out the foliage or scorch the cambium layer, thus killing the tree. This method did not work. The risk of spot fires was great, it took a long time per tree, and we could not get an intense-enough flame directed at a small-enough area to scorch the cambium.
The next method was a hand-held weed trimmer with a circular saw-type blade with chainsaw-type teeth. This was a fast way to cut small trees less than 1 inch in diameter at the ground. As diameter increased over 2 inches, the time required to cut a tree increased exponentially. For the size of tree with which this technique is efficient, it is cheaper and easier to use an ax or loppers.
A somewhat novel tool was an ATV-mounted cutter. This unit mounts on the front of a four-wheeler and uses momentum to shear the cedar with two disk blades at ground level. This method was somewhat successful, but it had its problems. The mounting bracket hung so low under the ATV that there were only a few inches of ground clearance. This greatly limited the terrain on which the implement could be used and added to the amount of time required to cut a tree due to increased maneuvering time. This implement is rated for trees up to 4 inches in diameter at ground level, which it will do, but the force of the impact on the operator made this at best unfriendly and at worst a safety hazard.
We also used a hydraulic shear mounted on a tractor. This unit is rated for trees up to 16 inches in diameter. It is user friendly and does a good job. However, the initial cost of the tractor and shear may be prohibitive for some. Also, it is a little slow because of the hydraulic cycle time and time needed to close on and cut a tree, big or small. Maneuverability is also a little slow on a tractor and would be much faster on a skid steer. However, the cost of acquiring a skid steer again may be prohibitive for some.
And, finally, we used a chainsaw. It is relatively cheap to own and can be used on any size tree. It is fast both in its cutting time and the amount of time required for moving from tree to tree. It is a very versatile tool and would be my first choice. The only disadvantage is the labor to run the chainsaw.
While interest in controlling cedar in southern Oklahoma seems to be increasing, I'd still like to see more being done. With fall upon us, temperatures are nicer, and with the leaves turning, cedars will be easier to see. I hope you can find a method that suits your situation and take back some land from this invader.