The Citizen Potawatomi Nation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs worked with local fire departments to complete a controlled burn of more than 55 acres of red cedar trees in Tecumseh.

The Natural Resources department of the BIA spent one year running a cedar eradication program and cutting and piling cedars, to reduce the risk of wildfires.

“Wildfires are out of control in Oklahoma,” said Josh Anderson, fuels specialist, BIA. “Last summer we lost more than 600 homes in Oklahoma due to wildfires.”

Red cedars have taken over several areas of the state, which used to be tall-grass prairie. The trees are hearty and can grow without many nutrients or much water.

“These trees have taken over because of lack of land management,” added Anderson. “It’s created a landscape which isn’t natural in Oklahoma and can become very dangerous.”

Red cedar is especially flammable because of the structure of the tree. Flammable leaves which reach the ground and an unusually oily structure make them the perfect fuel for wildfires.

“Safety is the top priority,” said Anderson. “We’ve become very good at suppressing fires, but that allows these cedars to grow and from an ecological standpoint it sets us back.”

Anderson estimates that there were 20-100 red cedars per acre. Nearly one year of planning, including finding funding, public outreach and government approvals was required to complete the burn.