Habitat & Conservation  |  03/18/2020

Prescribed Fire is Changing Nebraska's Landscape for the Better


Restoring Prairie and Battling Eastern Red Cedar

When it comes to restoring prairie ecosystems, a well-planned burning regime is the absolute best management tool we have. Taking this notion one step further, prescribed fire is also the most cost-effective method for battling one of the Great Plains’ most hated adversaries – the eastern red cedar.

In the fight against cedar encroachment, no state is taking a more aggressive approach than Nebraska where Pheasants Forever, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, United States Department of Agricultural, Nebraska Environmental Trust, USFWS-Partners for Fish and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and others are forming prescribed burn associations throughout the state to take back the prairie. And, it’s working. Just ask the folks who have helped reclaim nearly 250,000 acres from invasive red cedars over the past 15 years.

“Along with our dedicated partners, Pheasants Forever has helped form 14 prescribed burn associations across the state; landowner-led groups designed to put fire back in the hands of those who own the land,” explained Brian Teeter, prescribed fire coordinating biologist for Pheasants Forever based in Schuyler, Nebraska. “We’ve also activated our partners for education and outreach planning that has led to fire training and habitat tours across the state with 118 workshops conducted since 2008 with 2,791 attendees.”

Here’s what landowners need to know: eastern red cedars are a hardy, drought tolerant, native species that are well-adapted to the Great Plains. They reproduce readily from abundant seeds and can grow a foot per year or more. If left unchecked, cedar can encroach exponentially and dominate a landscape. Their sprawling branches spread horizontally, creating a closed canopy, soaking up all the sun and soil moisture, and eliminating virtually all other plant species. From the perspective of grassland birds – grouse, songbirds, pheasants, quail, ect. – eastern red cedar is extremely detrimental to their populations.

Want to learn more? Watch for an extended story of eastern red cedar encroachment in the Summer 2020 Issue of the PF Journal. For more questions or to join the Nebraska Prescribed Fire email list, contact Brian Teeter at BTeeter@PheasantsForever.Org.