Farm Progress

Slippery conditions and weight of limbs can complicate shearing of trees on steep slopes.

Curt Arens, Editor, Nebraska Farmer

December 27, 2016

3 Min Read
CLEARING IT OUT: Landowners in the Plains states are busy clearing out cedar trees this time of year, but shear operators must be aware of safety issues, including the top-heavy weight of big cedar trees, when operating their machinery, particularly on steep slopes.Curt Arens

It’s that time of year when farmers and ranchers often take to pastures to clear out unwanted Eastern red-cedar trees and make room for more productive grazing.  According to U.S. Forest Service reports, in 2015 the red cedar forest in Nebraska was estimated at more than 333,000 acres, or 22% of the state's forested area. And that's not counting grasslands with low densities or very small cedar trees.

With a rapidly expanding Eastern red cedar menace in pastures in many parts of the region, mechanical control with brush shears, a hot saw or mulching head mounted on a skid loader is one of the most viable options for trees taller than 6 feet.

The problem is that cedar trees don't often grow only on perfectly flat grazing land. They grow just as well, and some would say even better, on steep slopes. That's one reason why safety is crucial when you are trying to mechanically control cedar tree problems.

Slippery slopes
"Take extra care and additional safety measures when you are working on slopes," says Steve Rasmussen, Nebraska Forest Service District Forester. "Frozen or thawing ground on slopes can be icy and slippery," he says. Be aware of your surroundings and the terrain.

"Many times, working up or down slopes is safer than working sidewise to the slope," Rasmussen continues. "Working sidewise on a slope increases the chance of rollover, especially when the cutting head is elevated or the cutting machine is moving over trash material on the ground. Track equipment is usually more stable and gives better traction than wheeled vehicles," he adds.

"I also see saw and shear operators trying to cut bigger trees than the equipment was meant to handle," Rasmussen says. "Be aware of the weight of the trees and how much of that weight is up high. On 30- to 40-foot-tall conifer trees like cedars, much of the volume of weight is up and above the equipment."

Rasmussen says that saw operators need to think about which direction the tree will fall, and to plan their cutting accordingly. "Make sure all of your safety protection shields and shatterproof glass is in place on your machinery," he notes. "Trees have a tendency to kick back. And you never know if your hydraulics are going to fail." Pulling or pushing a tree that is "hung up" may cause the tree to fall in an unexpected direction. A tall cut tree falling against other standing trees may also bounce back when it hits a limber branch from an adjacent tree.

Rasmussen recommends piling cut cedars into individual piles to be safely burned or chipped at a later date. He does not advise pushing and leaving cut cedar trees into adjacent hardwood stands because those dead trees can create a fire fuel "ladder" hazard for the hardwoods.

In dry and hot weather, Rasmussen suggests having a fire extinguisher readily available and even additional water, just in case fire would break out on equipment or in the grass or woods.



About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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