Howdy, and welcome to the first installment of Ranchin’ Robert. I’d first like to introduce myself. The name’s Robert Young III and I come from a background in agronomy and landscape construction. I went from city to city, job after job of working with the earth, and in the shuffle I found myself on the wrong side of things. I wanted to help preserve and restore land.
I first landed at High Hope last March when shelter in place took effect. Since then I’ve established myself as the Land Steward for High Hope, caring for the soil, grasses, trees, and animals.
This January we’ve seen record inches of snow and rain here, which presented a unique opportunity for us to burn cedar piles that are the result of years of past cedar clearing. Cedar clearing is an important aspect of land management, prairie restoration, and water conservation. Just one cedar tree guzzles 30 gallons of water every day! Clearing in past years has shown a number of areas regenerating from our soil seed bank including; little bluestem, big bluestem, Indian grass, switchgrass, sideoats grama, hairy grama (Bouteloua hirsuta), tall dropseed (Sporobolus asper), silver bluestem, and Texas winter-grass.
Clearing is an important aspect of restoring the land and native grasses, but the resulting piles present a unique fire hazard. Burning them now when the ground is saturated ensures that in the summer when we inevitably go dry and hot, our fields are protected from the hazard of wildfire. We always check piles before burning so that no wildlife are harmed in the process.
Living cedar trees themselves are fire hazards, they may look green and lush on the outside but on the inside they are like dry kindling, ready to ignite. We love trees, we want to protect green space and wildlife habitat, but we must also consider the realities of the cedar trees- they are non-native to prairie land and aggressive, choking out our beloved oaks and other native trees, and growing at a rate that depletes the once abundant seeps found here on the land that feed downstream creeks and rivers.
However, cedars aren’t all bad. In 2002 High Hope, along with neighboring properties, began an effort of active land restoration management on behalf of restoring and creating valuable breeding habitat for two endangered birds of Texas: the Golden-cheeked Warbler and the Black-capped Vireo.
Going forward we will allow for a buffer zone of cedars to grow so that these endangered birds have a safe haven to nest and thrive. We will also see to it that future cleared cedars are arranged in such a way that we can perform conservation burns to produce biochar. Not only is this form of fire healthier for the environment, but we can apply the biochar as a soil ameliorate for both carbon sequestration and soil health in our gardens and on the land.
Burning these cleared cedars isn’t our only method of controlling them. We’ve recently embarked on a project to chip the discarded cedar and create mulch with it. Now you can find these fragrant wood chips in the garden- helping our vegetable crops retain water, cool the soil, and deter pests. These cedar chips are also serving as the base for 4 new campsites off of Ranch Road which we invite you to stay at.
If you would like to help us manage the encroaching cedars, join us for Lopapalooza! We’ll get physical lopping young cedars that are popping up in areas we’ve previously cleared. For those of you who are interested, we’ll also be collecting some of the loppings to create incense bundles afterwards!
*Science Sandy says: We are calling all of our junipers here by the local name ‘cedar’. At High Hope, we have two, if not three species of cedar, Juniperus ashei (Ashe juniper with the blueberry cedar), Juniperus pinchotii (redberry cedar) and Juniperus virginiana (eastern red cedar or single trunk).