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News Release

Prepare Now to Burn Invasive Cedars


Andrew Thomason, Public Affairs Specialist
(605) 570-2625 |

Rod Voss, Rangeland Management Specialist
(605) 280-9116 |

Sean Kelly, Range Management Field Specialist
(605) 842-1267 |

Burns of invasive red cedars like the one in 2011 near ChamberlainBurns result in scenes of reclaimed grassland like the one in Gregory County






Burns of invasive red cedars like the one in 2011 near Chamberlain (left) result in scenes of reclaimed grassland like the one in Gregory County (right). Thousands of Eastern red cedar trees continue to impair grazing on private grasslands along the Missouri River corridor in southern and central SD.

NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE (NRCS), Huron, S.D., June 15, 2021– South Dakota grasslands—vital to cattle, birds, and ranch resiliency—are losing out to an eastern red cedar invasion from the South. In fact, ranchers are losing 30% to 75% of their rangeland in areas along the Missouri River.

Fortunately, some ranchers are turning to prescribed burning to reclaim pasture for their cattle and their economic livelihood.

“Absolutely nothing will grow under those thick canopied cedar trees,” says Brule County rancher Doug Feltman. “We’ve lost over half of our cattle grazing.”

Eastern red cedar encroachment is often overlooked because the pasture takeover is slow. But once established it can reduce forage for livestock and wildlife by 75% or more. Profits for ranchers' decline, upland game animals and grassland birds are displaced, and the highly flammable red cedars increase wildfire risk.

“Cedar trees or woody encroachment began as an issue in the southern plains, moving north like a green glacier,” says Rod Voss, Rangeland Management Specialist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Mitchell. “In Texas up through Nebraska, prescribed burns have been used effectively to keep red cedar in check. We need to use this important tool and ecological process to help keep pastures, cattle, and ranchers resilient.”

Prescribed Fire is Cost-Effective Control

Feltman and other ranchers believe in prescribed burns. “It will take less work, less equipment, and there's less danger if you burn small trees,” Feltman says. “You have to respect fire, but you don't have to be afraid of it. If you write a prescribed burn plan and then follow that plan, you're going to reduce your risk.”

“If you have a pasture that is full of just little cedar trees that are just starting to come, then, fire will take care of that and it'd be much more cost-effective with a fire then versus trying to go out and clip all the little cedar trees that are one, two, three foot,” says Sean Kelly, SDSU Extension Range Management Field Specialist, at Winner.

Kelly serves as the Liaison Officer for the Mid-Missouri River Prescribed Burn Association, a South Dakota rancher-led organization that helps landowners in a four-county area develop detailed burn plans and conduct the prescribed burn. The NRCS is also a resource for landowners who write a burn plan.

Get Started Now

Prescribed fires usually occur in the spring, but Kelly and Voss say now is the time to prepare for a burn that’s a year or two in the future. It takes time to write a detailed plan over several visits to a ranch to map out all the water facilities, gates, escape routes, and hazards, and prepare fire breaks and ignition plans to make a safe burn.