The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

August 15, 2012

Oklahoma lawmaker blames eastern red cedar for fires

From The Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s infestation of the Eastern red cedar was part of the reason a recent wave of wildfires caused so much destruction, an Oklahoma City legislator said this week.

State Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, said the trees were firebombs waiting to explode and, when coupled with the recent drought, made the problem worse for homeowners and firefighters. He said the trees helped spread fire to more than 103,200 acres.

“Our thoughts are with the family that lost a loved one and of the others who lost property and of the valiant firefighters who risk everything to protect us all,” Morrissette said in a media statement.

Morrissette said the Eastern red cedar tree is taking its toll on state resources.

Each year in the U.S., about 90 firefighters die in the line of duty, he said. Of those, 60 percent are volunteer firefighters, who in Oklahoma struggle with Eastern red cedar and limited resources 100 percent of the time.

Morrissette said the state House of Representatives would host an interim study on how to effectively harvest the trees on Sept. 6. He said the goal was to link landowners who have registered with the state Eastern Red Cedar Registry Board to an inmate-run harvesting program.

He said the program would be for both public and private lands.

A public hearing will be held at the state Capitol on Oct. 10. Morrissette said the meeting will give citizens the opportunity to meet with state leaders about the Eastern red cedar issue.

“A section of the agenda will be set aside to address the possible need for the establishment of a cedar department within state government to bring organization and real results to management efforts,” he said.

The legislative study will follow the monthly meeting of the Eastern Red Cedar Registry Board. Members of the registration committee will present plans for beginning official documentation of residents with cedar infestation from among the state’s 87 conservation districts.

Morrissette said he would ask Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce Dave Lopez, Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese, conservation district directors, the state Tax Commission, land appraisers and other officials to help develop language for a bill designed to eradicate the trees. He said the bill would be introduced during the 2013 legislative session.

“At this point, Oklahoma’s cedar control policy is at best reactionary: Manage the problem after the fire breaks out,” he said.