Photo: Don J. Schulte

Cedar/Brush Management

Experts agree good land management means more water, however good land management doesn’t always mean cedar eradication and it clearly doesn’t mean cedar removal alone.

We know these facts…

“The quality and quantity of the water that flows into the Edwards Aquifer and thus out of taps in San Antonio is dependent on the type of land that catches the rainfall.”

“If the land is covered in native grassland with waist-high grass, the water will be guided into the topsoil and then filtered as it seeps into the aquifer and then via springs into the creeks.”

“If the land is covered with junipers, some 40 percent of it will be caught in the brushy trees’ thick branches and will evaporate, having never touched the ground.”

“If the land is covered with pavement and rooftops, the runoff will quickly be moved unfiltered into streams and rivers, often bypassing the aquifer entirely.” (Collin McDonald, San Antonio Express News).

Source: Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance

As Raymond Slade points out, “The article discusses springs “bursting from the ground” after cedars have been removed and later discusses additional groundwater recharge due to removal of these trees. However, these results are not necessarily achievable for all lands. First of all, groundwater is deep beneath much land–removing of cedars will not necessarily create flowing springs for such areas.”

Additionally, cedar removal equipment and processes can cause substantial damage to adjacent landscapes and non-cedar vegetation. Such vegetation is critical to the attenuation of contaminants contained in runoff, the stabilization of banks and hillsides, and the capture and storage of rainwater. Removal of vegetation decreases the benefits that the natural ecosystem provides in improving water quality in streams, lakes, and aquifers.

Vegetation removal exposes soils to erosion, which often causes substantial damage to receiving waters. A presentation titled “Construction Sedimentation” presents the threats of such processes.

Old growth cedar provides important wildlife habitat for numerous species throughout Hill Country. The yellow-bellied warbler and black-capped vireo are two endangered species that rely on the flaky bark of older cedar stands for building nests and providing cover. The prominence of cedar throughout Hill Country is thought to be the result of fire suppression and overgrazing that has taken place since the mid 1880s. Thoughtful and well-planned cedar and brush control can allow for the re-establishment of native grasses, but is no panacea for increased spring and surface water flow.

As David Langford points out in “Land Stewardship: it’s a lot more than just brush control,” water resources benefit regionally from a wide variety of stewardship techniques ranging from planting native grass, managing erosion, protecting springs and creek banks, and conserving native species.

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