Oklahoma lawmaker makes it his mission to remove tree that could fuel wildfires

CREEK COUNTY, Okla. - A tree native to Oklahoma has been dubbed an "enemy of the state" by one state lawmaker, who says the trees fuel wildfires.

2NEWS looked at efforts to cut down the population and why it's not the only problem for residents.

"We'll get things fixed up, it will take us a while," said Ron Statham, a Creek County resident.

Statham is one of the lucky ones. His home was spared during the massive wildfires in August.

"I hated it, we had neighbors [who] lost their homes, lost everything they had," Statham said.

While the fires were fickle, he knows keeping up his yard and clearing the brush played a role in keeping his home.

"Keeping the fence lines cleaned up has helped us a lot too," said Statham.

The massive fires were not Statham's first experience with wildfires and he doesn't expect them to be his last, which means he's aware of all possible fire hazards, Including the tree known as the eastern redcedar.

"The cedars I can understand because I saw them during this fire. We've had them catch on fire and they just kind of explode," said Statham.

The tree can contribute to the spread of wildfires, according to George Geissler, director of the Oklahoma Forestry Service.

"The oils in there do act as an accelerant. You know, it's like putting gas on the fire so they do throw a lot embers and it's a very vivid show when one of these things goes off," said Geissler.

Geissler says the eastern redcedar is a native tree.

"It's a tree that's been around for a long time, it's a tree that it's spread was historically checked by fires," said Geissler.

He says there are less natural wildfires than there were years ago, so the trees are spreading.

And one Oklahoma lawmaker has made it his mission to raise awareness about the tree's potential dangers and get rid of it.

"We have what is called the Oklahoma Redcedar Registry Board , which is a result of a bill that I passed three years ago," said State Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma County.

The registry is an online resource connecting landowners, ranchers and farmers with people who might be interested in purchasing the tree.

"Those redcedars that are evasive and dangerous on our lands, we can turn those into money, an economic engine," said Morrissette.

He says there are markets for the trees and everything from the wood to the oils is useful.

His latest effort to reduce the trees and make them marketable includes training Oklahoma inmates to clear them.

"We marry both problems -- inmates and redcedars -- and come up with some sort of solution," said Morrissette.

Morrissette says the bottom line is that more needs to be done to slow the spread of redcedars so they don't contribute to future disasters.

"Now's the time to act," he said. "Each day that we waste by not doing something, we waste another day of opportunity."

While officials with the Forestry Service applaud the effort to remove the trees, they want to remind residents that redcedars are not the only problem when it comes to wildfires.

"The ultimate culprit right now is essentially people needing to take some personal responsibility," said Geissler.

Geissler says when it came to the Creek County fires, the ground brush was the biggest factor and it's something residents can do something about.

"Making sure that your trees are limbed up, that you prune them so that there is a space between the lower limb and the ground," said Geissler.

He says keeping your trees trimmed and your property clear can even limit the damage a redcedar can do.

"If you prune it up the fire can go underneath it and it does not erupt and create that ember storm," said Geissler.

"You can live with this, in a fire ecology and do some basic stuff and protect your home," said Geissler.

Print this article Back to Top