OSU receives grant to investigate redcedar, biofuels and water

By Oklahoma State University | February 05, 2014

Oklahoma landowners have been hearing for years that removing the eastern redcedar trees from their property is essential for proper land management.

Aside from being an eyesore, the trees are extremely invasive, are an incredible fire danger, and large, open-grown trees can use upwards of 42 gallons of water a day during the summer. Research from Oklahoma State University has shown only a 2 percent to 5 percent water yield to streams from land encroached by cedar trees compared to about 10 percent from grass-dominated areas.

“In a year with normal or below normal rainfall, these trees use virtually every drop of water they come in contact with,” said Rod Will, silviculture professor in OSU’s Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management.

Since 2008, Chris Zou, ecohydrology assistant professor, Will and a team of researchers have been looking into the effects redcedar have on the amount of water entering our state‘s streams. With the infrastructure in place and preliminary information already collected, OSU was awarded a $500,000 USDA, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant to look at the effects of redcedar removal and switchgrass planting on water yield.

“We think we will have more water yield and better water quality when redcedar encroached areas are converted to switchgrass or returned to native prairie,” said Will. “This research touches on the state’s big three natural resource issues – water, biofuels and redcedar removal.”

With the grant, the team of OSU researchers plans to use the same plots of land used in its recent study to determine water usage of redcedar. By harvesting the trees from two of three plots, replanting one with switchgrass and leaving the other to regrow native prairie, the team can determine the benefits of cedar removal on water yield.

“Our long-term goal is to quantify the effects of biofuel feedstock selection and management scenarios on water yield and its associated quality,” said Zou. “Our overall objective is to parameterize a water budget and evaluate water quality for redcedar woodlandsintensively cropped switchgrass and extensively managed native grasslands.”

The study brings three potential benefits to Oklahoma. Removal of the invasive redcedars is number one. The trees are a suitable biofuel feedstock for both the production of gaseous and liquid fuel.

Number two will be the increased quality and quantity of available water for other uses. And finally, the removal of redcedar will allow restoration of native prairie or establishment of switchgrass as a dedicated feedstock for use in biomass energy production.