Removing unwanted guests

Taking out tamarisk, Russian olives will help wildlife along waterways

James M. Robb Colorado River State Park manager Pete Firmin stands in the midst of a pile of chips and debris in an area where tamarisk was once thick along the bank of the Colorado River. Firmin said that crews used a hydro axe to demolish the tamarisk in that section as they work to restore the native vegetation to that stretch of bank in Connected Lakes State Park.

James M. Robb Colorado River State Park manager Pete Firmin describes how the crews used a thumb extension on a track hoe to pluck Russian olive trees and tamarisk out by the roots in an area along the bank of the Colorado River at Connected Lakes State Park.

Like so many nonnative species brought to the U.S., no one suspected tamarisk and Russian olive would get out of control.

But just like the European collared dove and the Japanese vine kudzu, tamarisk and Russian olive are outgrowing their welcome by displacing native species.

Faced with the loss of wildlife habitat and access because of the dense lining of tamarisk and Russian olive at Connected Lakes and many of the state’s waterways, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has begun a major, long-term effort to remove the nonnative plants from several local state wildlife areas and state parks.

That is why there suddenly is so much more open space at Connected Lakes State Park.

“The public may not realize that many of the trees they see lining bodies of water are these harmful nonnative species,” said JT Romatzke, Colorado Parks and Wildlife area manager in Grand Junction. “We are planning to remove them from several of our local state parks and wildlife areas, then replace them with native plant species that our wildlife needs for health and survival.”

It’s been estimated 90 percent of Colorado’s wildlife species depend upon riparian habitat during all or part of their life cycle, making removal of the invasive plants a priority for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Visitors to Connected Lakes already have noticed some major changes around the area, said Pete Firmin, park manager for James M. Robb Colorado River State Park.

“We anticipate that some people may be surprised at the large number of these trees that we will be removing,” Firmin said. “However, it’s important for everyone to keep in mind that Russian olives and tamarisk are a major problem for our wildlife. Removing them will allow us to restore important habitat along with adding to the enjoyment of the areas for a variety of outdoor recreation.”

Firmin said the “dramatically altered landscape” at Connected Lakes, where nearly 30 acres have been cleared, is only the initial phase.

“Now we can see the other side of the river from our side” of Connected Lakes, Firmin said. He said replanting with cottonwoods, willows and other native plants will begin sometime late next fall.

“We’d like to get at least a spring and fall (herbicide) spraying to knock back the secondary weeds, once the Russian olive and tamarisk are gone,” Firmin said.

He acknowledged the difficulty of removing tamarisk but said there are enough resources, from heavy equipment to the leaf-eating tamarisk beetle, to accomplish the task.

Firmin said funding for the project came from a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board as well as a GOCO Youth Corps grant and some CPW employee wages.

Romatzke said the plant-removal project will improve not only the “visual quality of the areas, but also in the variety of wildlife that will move in and benefit due to the improved habitat.”

Another project scheduled to begin this fall will tackle invasive plant removal at Walter Walker, Colorado River Island, Franklin Island and Tilman Bishop state wildlife areas, CPW spokesman Mike Porras said.


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