County turns beetles loose on thirsty tamarisk

Officials expect defoliation to be obvious within a year or two

By LE ROY STANDISH

The beetles have landed, but instead of mop-tops and rad boots, these beetles don’t carry a tune. They chow down on tamarisk.

Their appetite is literally music to Mesa County weed and pest inspector Judith Sirota’s ears.

“This is the first ever” release of beetles by the county’s division of pest management, Sirota said early Wednesday.

She and several volunteers from the Tamarisk Coalition took the beetles, 2,500 of them supplied by the Palisade Insectary, and released them on South Watson Island, at the end of Seventh Street in the Colorado River.

“You just kind of shake them out on the tamarisk,” she said.

Collecting the beetles for release is another matter.

“The trick is finding large numbers of them,” said Dr. Dan Bean, director of the Palisade Insectary. “They are a moving target.”

Bean said he and others scouted around western Colorado looking for beetles. Once a large population is found, a net is spread under the tree, branches shaken and beetles collected.

The first beetles released in Colorado came from Nevada in 2005. Beetles released in Utah entered Colorado in 2007 on their own.

Releases have occurred in a dozen different areas in western Colorado, Bean said. The defoliation of the tamarisk caused by the hungry beetles should be apparent within a year or two.

“You might see the defoliation right away,” Bean said. “Expect a lot of defoliation in the valley, maybe starting this year and continuing next year. They are moving up the valley along the Colorado (River). The citizens of the valley should not be too alarmed when the tamarisk starts browning out.”

Though the tamarisk will start to brown, it will never be totally eradicated, Sirota said.

“It’s a suppression,” she said.

Sirota said the county may target new areas and release more beetles in the coming weeks.

“Lush riverbanks are not natural here,” Sirota said. “It should be sand and grasses.”


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