When Oklahoma Territory was opened for settlement, newcomers found much of the Cross Timbers to be impassable, thick forests. The strong scrubby oak trees with low branches blocked the easy passage through this forest. In 1832, the American writer Washington Irving traveled through the region, describing the Cross Timbers in his travelogue A Tour on the Prairies as “vexations of flesh and spirit” and as they moved across the area, it was as if “struggling through forests of cast iron.”
What is Happening to the Cross Timbers?
The Cross Timbers woodlands have changed since Irving visited Oklahoma Territory. Cross Timbers forests developed over many centuries and are sensitive to change, especially such large-scale modifications as road construction and urban development. Fragmentation of the Cross Timbers occurs when we convert forest to agriculture lands, build new housing, and develop oil and gas resources, all of which impact wildlife habitat as well as watershed health.
Also, the Cross Timbers is being taken over by invasive species. Exotic species from Asia and Europe are displacing our native plants and changing the nature of our forests. Chinese privet and Japanese honeysuckle are some of the most abundant invaders in the Cross Timbers. Although a native tree, the eastern redcedar has overtaken many acres of Cross Timbers because of fire suppression and passive land management.
Why Should the Cross Timbers Matter to You?
The Cross Timbers may not be commercial forests that provide high-quality wood products, but they still offer many benefits and values to our state that citizens might not realize.
Changes in the forest disrupt established natural processes within forest systems and affect the services they provide, including flood prevention, soil protection, wildlife habitat, and water filtration. When services provided naturally by forests are lost, they must be provided artificially, often at great public expense. Well-managed Cross Timbers can support healthy watersheds capable of filtering water and maintaining sustainable water supplies. Healthy Cross Timbers can decrease soil erosion problems and slow storm water runoff.
Recreation is popular in this forest type because large portions of the state’s population live within the Cross Timbers. Some recreational activities include bird watching, swimming, canoeing, hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, cycling, horseback riding, and spiritual renewal.
Cross Timbers is home to a wide variety of wildlife. Because of the habitat diversity – thick forests, prairie gaps, and even wetlands – the Cross Timbers harbors many different types of animals, from white-tailed deer to spotted skunks, from western chicken turtles to five-lined skinks, and scissor-tailed flycatchers to painted buntings.