AUSTIN (KXAN) – A bill filed by Texas House Rep. Ellen Troxclair, (R-Austin), that would remove municipal protections for Ashe Juniper trees across Texas, was passed by the Texas House of Representatives Wednesday, making it one step closer to becoming law. Some activists worry if this bill is successful, it will have grim repercussions for an already endangered bird and the Hill Country ecosystem at large.
HB 2239 would change the state law to add the Ashe Juniper, the tree associated with “cedar fever,” to the list of trees already permitted for removal. Dead or diseased trees and trees that pose an imminent danger are already on the list of trees that can be removed without backlash from a local government.
“Just as Ashe Juniper pollen notoriously drifts across Texas each spring, restrictive local policies tend to spread unless stopped,” Troxclair told KXAN’s Cora Neas in March 2023. “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.”
“This bill applies to homeowners, who deserve the freedom to cut down trees on their own land without interference from activists or politicians,” Troxclair continued.
For decades the Ashe Juniper tree was considered an invasive species or a pest, according to environmentalists, but in recent years, ecologists have found it is “a really important keystone species in our particular ecology,” said Nicole Netherton, the Executive Director of Travis Audubon.
“We would not have the beautiful Hill Country, and the species [in it], if not for the Ashe Juniper,” she said.
One species that would undoubtedly be affected by Ashe Juniper trees coming down is the Golden-cheeked Warbler. This small bird nests only in Central Texas and mostly in the mature Ashe Juniper trees of the area, though nests can be found also in oak and elm trees throughout the region. The Golden-cheeked Warbler is the only bird in Texas that nests exclusively in the state, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
And though the bird’s nest can be found in other trees, it needs mature Ashe Juniper bark to build its nests, Netherton said. The Golden-cheeked Warbler is already listed as endangered due to many of the mature juniper and oak woodlands having been cleared to support development in the region, according to TPWD.
“We would hope that our legislators would be proud of this native Texan and realize how special this bird is that it can only be found here. But this [bill] is a huge threat to its habitat. And to its survival,” Netherton said.
Netherton said though the tree is found across the state, they are concentrated in Central Texas. She said this bill is stripping the authority from local leaders who understand the importance of the tree in the region’s ecology.
“[This] is not about a bird. A bird is sort of a symbol or an icon for the way everything is all connected,” Netherton said. “Birds are a part of an ecosystem, just like people are. And I think we’re mistaken, if we imagine that our priorities are above, or more important than the rest of nature.”