Beating cedars with teamwork

Cedar trees are encroaching on grazing land in Boyd County and around the state at a rate that Jim Mathine, Natural Resources Conservation Service district conservationist, calls “alarming.” This is especially true in areas choked with small cedars.

“They can grow as much as a foot per year. Therefore, in just 10 years a significant percentage of grassland can become displaced with trees where density levels are high,” Mathine says. Since cedar tree removal became an eligible Environmental Quality Incentives Program practice in Boyd County in 2006, Mathine says that they have approved more than 100 contracts to address cedar control.

“The best thing is to stay ahead of the cedar tree problems before it gets too far out of control,” says Mathine. “High-priority treatment areas should be those pastures or areas where the cedars are smaller and are not so thick that they have developed closed canopies.”

At a glance

Neighbors work together on prescribed burns.

Even after burns, mechanical shearing, follow-up maintenance are needed.

EQIP can offer cost-share and technical assistance for cedar removal.

For seasoned cedar removal veterans like Bristow landowner Jerald Dennis and tenant Todd Nelson, teamwork between the two men and EQIP cost-share incentives have been key elements in their battle.

“Todd has been involved with prescribed burns for 20 years,” Dennis says of his tenant. “He has been the burn boss on any of the burns we did on my place.”

Dennis says, “We discuss which areas we feel would be most beneficial for mechanical shearing and then consult with NRCS. We have a group of landowners that work together planning and conducting spring burns in the ‘neighbor helping neighbor’ concept.”

Don’t forget safety

Many of the neighbors working together are members of Niobrara Valley Prescribed Fire Association, which includes operators in Cherry, Keya Paha and Boyd counties. This spring, the group is planning to burn around 6,000 acres. While burning has been a key removal tool for cedars for Dennis, he says burns are not without hazards. “We do not recommend attempting a controlled burn without the proper equipment, training and experience,” Dennis says.

“First complete the mechanical removal, and then follow up with a prescribed burn over the area, one to three years later,” Mathine says. “The prescribed burn is very effective in controlling the small cedars that are beginning to establish just a short time after the mechanical treatment has taken place.”

He says that to be eligible for EQIP, cedar tree density generally must be at least 50 trees per acre, when counting medium-sized trees. “When completing mechanical removal, we are looking for greater than 95% removal of all cedars, and the trees should be cut as close to the ground as possible,” says Mathine. “It is very important to cut the trees low enough to get every branch.” The fallen trees must be stacked into debris piles or windrows, he says. “Follow-up maintenance will be needed to control the next wave of young cedars that often show up two to five years after mechanical treatment.”

According to Mathine, EQIP offers per-acre payments on eligible acres treated, with the rate varying each year according to the canopy level of the removed trees.

If you are interested in cedar tree removal tips or applying for cost-share through EQIP, contact your local NRCS office for an assessment of your situation and technical assistance in developing a conservation plan.

Learn more about prescribed burning at the Niobrara Valley Prescribed Fire Association website at


CHOKING OUT GRASS: Cedar trees are rapidly encroaching on grazing land in Boyd County and around the state, choking out pasture hills and meadows.


DEAD CEDARS: After mechanical shearing, cedars are pushed into piles like the one behind landowner Jerald Dennis (left), NRCS district conservationist Jim Mathine (center), and Todd Nelson, who is Dennis’ tenant. The piles are burned later, along with small cedars, in a prescribed burn.

This article published in the April, 2012 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.