AUSTIN (KXAN) — A short bill filed by Texas Rep. Ellen Troxclair, R-Austin, would remove municipal protections for Ashe Juniper trees across Texas, a move that ecologists warn could have a serious impact on Central Texas.
House Bill 2239 would amend a section of state law that currently only prevents municipalities from preventing the removal of diseased, dead or dangerous trees. Troxclair’s bill simply adds the Ashe Juniper to the list.
“Just as Ashe Juniper pollen notoriously drifts across Texas each spring, restrictive local policies tend to spread unless stopped,” Troxclair said. “Some Texans are already facing a complicated bureaucratic nightmare for just wanting to manage their own land. HB 2239 would let Texas’ private property owners make their own decisions about what grows on their property.”
Referring to the native plant as overabundant and “almost an invasive species,” Troxclair hopes their removal could eradicate “cedar fever.”
“This bill applies to homeowners, who deserve the freedom to cut down trees on their own land without interference from activists or politicians,” Troxclair said. “Do you really own your land if the government keeps you from living there how you see fit?”
However, ecologists told KXAN removing a keystone species like the Ashe Juniper could be disastrous for the ecosystem, despite the desires of landowners.
Elizabeth McGreevy, an ecologist who recently wrote a book about Ashe Junipers, said there are misconceptions about the plant. “Wanted! Mountain Cedars: Dead and Alive” is the result of her unlearning the misconceptions she had after first moving to Austin 25 years ago.
McGreevy said that research from 15 years ago shows that Ashe Juniper enriches the limestone-ridden soil of Central Texas. It also provides nesting material for migratory birds, such as the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.
“For decades, what we’ve been seeing them do, we misinterpreted, and we thought that they were causing harm to the limestone lands in Texas. It’s native, it’s not a water hog, it doesn’t cause erosion and it isn’t toxic,” McGreevy said. “[HB 2239] puts a big target on the Ashe Junipers and makes it look like the whole state of Texas is saying that they’re bad trees. I can’t help but wonder if the goal is to target a single native Texas tree, or is the ultimate goal to add all of our native trees to this list?”
She also claims that the trees help to reduce air pollution, erosion and flooding.
“The irony of this is that you can go to the city and get permission to remove something, unless it’s a heritage tree, which is over 24 inches in diameter trunk,” McGreevy said. “There’s not that many Ashe Junipers in the city anymore that are that big. Most of them have already been cut down.”
Troxclair said that ecologists “can rest easy” about the potential impact of her bill.
“Texas’ ecosystem includes people as well, and I haven’t met a Texan who wants to remove all of our trees, which add life, solace, joy, and value to our land,” Troxclair said. “This is not a mandate to cut down every cedar tree in sight. It is simply a limited and reasonable effort to allow Texas homeowners to have a say in what happens on their own land.”