Photo: Wikipedia Commons
Cedar pollen counts are at their highest recorded levels in 16 years. I myself have taken to daily Neti Pot sessions and I'm popping Benadryl like they are Tic Tacs, which is my excuse should this posting go awry. I don't know about you, but in my suffering and drug-induced haze, I am prepared to declare an all-out war on the Ashe Juniper, a.k.a. the Central Texas cedar tree.
I tend to come down with a nasty sinus infection in the first quarter of every year, though I have gotten better at more actively managing my allergies and haven't gotten truly sick in a few winters. The value of human suffering aside, there's no telling what the lost worktime due to cedar allergies is worth, but I would guarantee it's in the millions annually. Now, if we were allergic to a highly beneficial plant, say one that provided livestock or human food, I could see the pain being worth it, but cedar provides no such benefit - in fact, there are a couple of things about our problem cedar species that in themselves would be worth serious control measures.
First - cedars are very thirsty plants. They are said to suck up multiple gallons of water from the ground each day, out-competing grasses and other trees for water and contributing to the "desertification" of their surrounding terrain. I think it's clear to all of us that water availability is a growing and very serious concern for Texas, and any useless drain on this resource should be stopped. I heard from a friend today that his oak trees are thriving since he cut all of the cedar out of his 9-acre place...this is a great idea.
Second - cedars create a wildfire hazard. If you've ever taken a match to a pile of cut cedar, you know that if it's fairly dry, it goes up like you poured gas on it. Firefighters call cedars "firebombs" - their foilage is coated with oils that make it very flammable, and thick growths of cedars in hot dry months are literally a tinderbox waiting to explode. An out of control wildfire could ravage our city, especially the high-value homes in the west and southwest parts of Austin, many of which are literally tucked into this volatile wildfire fuel source.
We lived on 4.5 acres just north of Buda for about 6 years, and I steadily cut back the cedar on my own without making much of a dent in it, so I understand that cutting down all the cedar trees in Central Texas is a daunting notion, if not impossible. But, consider what a large reduction (say, 50%) could do for our water table, our fire safety, and least importantly really, our allergy sufferers.
But how to pay for it? There's no way we're going to be able to pay for professional loggers or arborists to do this work on this scale. Based on my experience, I'd suggest a tax incentive. Start with an annual discount of $20 from every landowner's property tax bill for every adult cedar tree the owner removes from his or her land during the taxed year. If I had had such an incentive in my country days, that piece of property would be cedar free today. Beyond that, a similarly-priced penalty for property owners who fail to keep their cedar populations in check. It should be the responsibility of any landowner to ensure that public hazards are not created on his property, and I'd say cedar trees qualify as a public hazard.
Let me know what you think, and if you agree, please share this post via social networking. There's way more to learn: check out a great Texas Monthly article from a few years ago on this subject by Joe Nick Patoski HERE, and the very extensive 1997 Juniper Symposium Proceedings document he references HERE. C3 boss Charles Attal got in a scrape with the city over his clearing of cedars a couple of years ago, check that story out HERE. And though I can't confirm the accuracy of the content, I found an interesting website from a group of highly motivated cedar haters, check it out HERE.