Oklahoma has a problem: cedar trees feed wildfires. And Windle has a solution. Now, he just needs customers to bridge the gap between the two.
Windle’s company, Edmond-based Cedar Closets & Products LLC, builds cedar closet paneling, shelving, cabinets, shoe racks and other home furnishings using the aromatic but problematic Eastern Red cedar tree, a timber that has germinated so profusely throughout the state that it has become a hazard to agriculture, wildlife and people.
About three years ago, he went to construct his own cedar closet and was disappointed with the products he found on the market.
“They were cheap and required a lot of preparation to install,” Windle says.
He was convinced he could do better.
He learned that the raw materials for his closet were available locally in the form of unharvested Eastern Red cedar and by using the trees, he was helping combat what has become a serious environmental issue for the state.
Repurposing the Tree
Eastern Red cedar was introduced en mass in Oklahoma during the 1930s, when it was planted for windbreak as billows of thick sand and choking grit roared across the plains. But now, the tree has taken over, consuming more than a million acres across the state with more than 4 million acres at risk, says Windle.
makes land unusable for ranching and agriculture,” he says. “In some
areas, they grow so tightly together that birds and deer can’t live
there. We’re even seeing a decline in some of our native wildlife and
single red cedar, which is an evergreen tree, sucks up about 80 gallons
of water a day, but when harvested, can serve a new purpose.
has to be used for its positive qualities,” Windle says. “It is
abundantly available. It is insect-resistant. And it is beautiful and
addition to the work Windle has completed in private homes, he built and
installed a cedar wall in the office of Oklahoma Secretary of
Agriculture Jim Reese, using a unique interlocking design system he
developed that allows the boards to connect using no nails, screws or
glues.His finished product sells for about $4 per square foot and can be installed for an additional $2.25 per foot.
a way, placing the wall in Reese’s office symbolizes efforts that Reese
and other state leaders are undertaking to help minimize Eastern Red
cedar’s destructive growth habits while finding ecologically acceptable
ways to reuse the tree.
himself has become a liaison in the movement and is working hand in
hand with state officials to develop environmentally friendly solutions
to cedar overpopulation.
Jamey Allen, director of marketing development services with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, says that the cedar wall that Windle
installed in Reese’s office is a “reminder that when we face a problem
there is not just one answer, but many.”
really is a beautiful use for a tree with which we have such a
love-hate relationship in our state,” Allen says. “This was such a
pleasant, aromatic choice and shows that to those making decisions about
our forestry there is always more than one option.”
As a business owner, Windle has encountered his own challenges in
developing a market — and a reliable protocol for securing enough raw
material from logging to the sawmill and his workshop — for Eastern Red
Harvesting the tree is still a cottage industry, he says, with some individuals or small businesses doing it on the side when they find time.
cedar industry for lumber and other products is not developed. It’s a
work in progress,” Windle says. “If I get ramped up and call and need
the product, I have to be able to get it immediately. I can’t depend on
sees a market for the wood as cabinetry or other furniture; for these
uses outside of the traditional cedar closet, the finished product is
usually coated in polyurethane. While that causes the wood to lose its
coveted scent, it’s necessary to seal and protect it. What Windle can’t
use as lumber, he grinds up for mulch and grilling planks. The tree’s
cedar oil also has uses ranging from insect repellent to aromatherapy
and perfumes, but no one has developed it on a large scale locally
because start-up costs are exorbitant and the industry as a whole needs
to be developed in Oklahoma, state officials say.
“The demand for the Eastern Red cedar is not quite there yet, but I’m not looking to get rich on this,” Windle says.
needed, he says, is the large-scale development of an viable
infrastructure — perhaps by a corporation or governmental initiative —
to move the product into mainstream construction. Anything, he says, to
keep it from being burned or ending up in a landfill.
Windle’s deep affection for the Eastern Red cedar is obvious; he doesn’t want to see it destroyed.
riding on the coattails of a problem, trying to come up with a
solution,” he says. “All while trying to create a product for which
there is a demand and that is completely utilized in every way.”