MOORE — Cleveland County, situated in the center of the state is fortunate to receive decent amounts of rain almost every year. While we can all agree 2011 was a bust, we are already better off thus far in half of 2012 than we were in all of 2011. Needless to say, rain is a blessing and water is an extremely valuable asset. While water is the backbone for all life, it can also produce a few negatives depending on your objectives.
Rain helps grasses feed livestock, fills lakes, ponds and rivers and recharges ground water. Rain also helps break down organic matter, manure, synthetic fertilizers and other nutrients important for plants and animals. While high annual rainfalls are great for growing grass, they also grow trees and shrubs very well.
Rain and brush go hand in hand. “Brush” is a term used to loosely describe many woody species consisting of shrubs and trees.
Oklahoma has one of the most diverse rainfall maps of any state. From around 18 inches average in Cimarron County to almost 60 in Leflore County, Oklahoma definitely has it all when it comes to rainfall. Areas in southeast Oklahoma have much more potential to grow large trees and thick brush as opposed to the high and dry lands of the panhandle. Naturally, when shrubs and trees are better able to perform due to higher rainfall, their spread is harder to suppress. In fact, it only takes a few years without disturbance (chemical treatment, fire, plowing, grazing etc.) in high rainfall areas for brush to explode and begin encroaching into pasture and rangeland very quickly.
There are many ways to control “brush.” The first way is with controlled burning. Conducting controlled burns on range and pasture can be one of the most cost effective ways to suppress and control brush. Controlled burns also improve grasses, soil, wildlife habitat and grazing potential. A well-designed, professionally implemented and planned prescribed fire can do wonders for the health, value and productivity of pasture or rangeland.
Burning to control brush can be used at any time throughout the year, when winds, fire bans, humidity and vegetation allow, but the best brush kills occur when the plants are actively green and growing. Late summer is a great time to consider a burn as opposed to late winter or early spring when brush species are dormant. The last key point to consider regarding prescribed fire is that it can prove to be a liability if conducted improperly. Loss of life, livestock and property are certainly possible if a fire burns where or when it shouldn’t. Always contact a natural resource professional and all local emergency officials before considering a controlled burn on your property to control brush.
Mechanical control is another great way to control brush, but it can be extremely expensive depending on the method used. Trackhoes, bulldozers (large timber), roller chopping or chaining (small brush) or hand cutting are a few options. While they can provide almost instant results, a few of these methods can be quite labor intensive and cost a tremendous amount of money. Mechanical control also can cause erosion and scar the landscape for many years so it is important to weigh all options and consider results before choosing mechanical control.
While some brush chemicals and spray applications can be costly, chemicals still provide the most common and oftentimes inexpensive brush control. From spot spraying on an ATV, to aerial spraying large tracts of land, this method will provide excellent results. There are a number of chemical applications such as liquid, powders and pellets, and each is designed to eradicate certain species of trees and shrubs differently. Although chemical control is one of the most widespread control methods used today, it can negatively affect wildlife, fish, water quality and non-target plants if applied improperly. This is why is important to positively identify the species you want to control and always read the herbicide label before spraying.
Brush is good for some wildlife managers and bad for some cattle producers. Not everyone wants to control brush and in fact, some people welcome it. It all depends on your land objectives and what you hope to achieve.
Heath Herje is with the Cleveland County Cooperative Extension service.