STILLWATER (AP) — Hundreds of overturned trees line the side of Oklahoma 51 west of Stillwater, twisted in fences and piled on top of one another.
Farther back from the road, acres of Eastern red cedars lay on their sides, mowed over in the same direction.
The site is just a fraction of Oklahoma State University’s effort at reclaiming its land from the invasive species of trees. The project began in February and could last up to two years.
When the work is finished, OSU will have cleared 6,600 acres of university land and cut down countless red cedars, said Sam McFee, assistant director of risk management for OSU.
The university is trying to accomplish several things, McFee said, the first being reducing the wildfire risk in the area.
The Oklahoman reported that wildfires in 2012 burned thousands of acres in the state, and red cedars are catching most of the blame because their low branches and flammable oils can easily ignite and spread a grass fire rapidly.
The 2012 fires, coupled with recent drought conditions, led OSU administrators to allocate $485,000 to eradicate the trees from university land, McFee said.
And OSU is not alone in trying to make a dent in the large Oklahoma red cedar population, which covers more than 10 million acres, according to the Oklahoma Natural Resource Conservation Service.
In March, Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan announced a program he said will try to remove about 1,000 trees a week in the county.
OSU’s effort has already cut down about 5,000 acres of trees, McFee said, though the trees have not been moved yet. He said the trees will be collected and turned into mulch once they dry.
An Oklahoma Forestry Services spokeswoman, Michelle Finch-Walker, said the organization supports limiting red cedars in situations when it can improve the health of more desirable tree species.