Tamarisk project a ‘true success’

Bureau of Land Management Director Robert Abbey, in green shirt, and Catherine Robertson, BLM Grand Junction field manager, stand along the banks of the Dolores River south of Gateway.

Killing tamarisk along the Dolores River demands a concerted effort, one as subtle as a minuscule beetle and as direct as an excavator ripping the plants from the riverside.

It’s also an expensive effort for the federal government, one made less so by a range of partners, from well-heeled foundations to young people just getting a start on life, Bureau of Land Management Director Robert Abbey said Tuesday during a tour of a tamarisk-studded section of the river.

“It’s a true success, one that’s been under the radar screens,” Abbey said after a daylong tour during which he helped pile tamarisk branches that had been cut down moments before by crews from the Western and Southwestern sections of the Colorado Conservation Corps.

Crew members, most of them in their 20s, worked chain saws and piled the slash, or tamarisk limbs and branches, into piles. They earn minimum wage and pile up credits toward college scholarships through AmeriCorps.

On Tuesday morning, they were joined by several bureau officials, including Abbey, and representatives of The Nature Conservancy, the Walton Foundation and other organizations that contributed to the battle against the tamarisk.

The tamarisk lining the Dolores River about seven miles from Gateway have been under assault from tamarisk beetles that were placed there in 2005. Those beetles were joined a year later by other beetles that crossed over the Uncompahgre Plateau from a foray among Utah tamarisk. The beetles now are laying waste to the Dolores River plants, said Sparky Taber, a natural resource specialist in the BLM’s Grand Junction Field Office.

Once the beetles, which feed only on tamarisk, defoliate the plants, the conservation corps crews move in with chain saws, followed by “swampers,” crew members who pile the slash. Next come bureau weed-management experts who paint the stumps with herbicide to prevent the root system, which reaches deep into the earth, from regenerating.

Eventually, the slash piles will be ground to mulch by heavy equipment and left to nourish a new generation of native grasses and plants.

In between, however, the bureau is deploying pesticides and a different wave of insects to rid the banks of such invaders as Russian knapweed, which chokes off native species.

As weeds and tamarisk are removed from a 175-mile length of the river, new access for mammals such as deer and elk is created, Taber said.

The Dolores River Restoration Project “sets the tone for what can be done elsewhere across the United States,” Abbey told the crews and others. “It’s a success that can be exported.”

The project also illustrates the extent to which federal efforts are supplemented by environmental organizations and foundations, Abbey said, noting such partnerships will become more valuable as government budgets shrink as a result of the nation’s economic woes.


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