While federal funds through the Natural Resources Conservation Service are exhausted for 2012 eastern red cedar control projects, the agency is taking applications for 2013 when funds again become available in the EQIP Program.
"Redcedar is an invasive species in Oklahoma and it can reduce wildlife habitat and reduce forage availability for livestock, and in extreme cases it can cause erosion problems when it reduces forage grasses for groundcover," says Kenny Hitch, NRCS resource specialist for programs.
The process involves meeting with a conservation agent at the county service center. If it's determined NRCS can assist the problem, landowners fill out an application that sets priorities for projects based on a set of criteria. A conservation plan detailing the problem and correction methods is created, as well as a conservation contract listing items receiving assistance. Those items could include burning and grazing, as well as mechanical methods like crawler dozers and chain saws. Participants must also agree to maintain the project for 10 years, Hitch explains.
There's also federal aid available through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Partners for Fish & Wildlife Program, which works with landowners to improve the landscape in traditional Lesser Prairie-Chicken habitat.
"In the last 15 years, we've concentrated all of our redcedar control in western Oklahoma, which threatens species like the Lesser Prairie-Chicken," says Jontie Aldrich, coordinator for the program in Oklahoma. The program provides technical and financial assistance to landowners for redcedar removal on their property. Interested parties meet with a wildlife biologist who inspects the property, providing a review of the property and available assistance to the landowner.
Many factors affect funding, including acreage, fencing and tree density, and funding typically follows NRCS guidelines. Participantants can expect to receive between $42 per acre at the low end to $130 per acre for the highest density.
The property owner can choose the eradication practice that best suits the needs of the property, except burning, which is not covered in the program. Once the project is finished, landowners participate in a review session and can usually receive payment within two weeks.
At the state level, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has cost-share funds for projects that improve wildlife habitat.
"ODWC is a wildlife agency, and we want to improve wildlife habitat by improving rangeland conditions," says Alva Gregory, ODWC habitat coordinator. "Most of the people in western Oklahoma who have (redcedar trees) want to get rid of them because they're losing their grazing."
ODWC projects are similar to those addressed by NRCS and are funded through the Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program and Lesser-Prairie Chicken Habitat Conservation Program. Landowners work with a wildlife biologist to create a plan after the initial application, and a committee studies the project for resource need and available funding. Many variables determine the amount allotted to each project based on NRCS information, and ODWC leaves it up to the participants to remove the trees, which may include contracting with a third party to complete the project.
Due to limited funding, the project must be completed by June 30 to be eligible for payment, which is capped at $4,500. The landowner must also agree to maintain the property for a minimum of 10 years.
- This story was written by Everett Brazil III