La Plata County Open Space and Southwest Conversation Corps take the fight to Russian Olive trees

Russian Olive
Russian Olive

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Two years ago, a partnership between La Plata County Open Space and Southwest Conversation Corps removed Russian Olive, along with two other invasive species – tamarisk and Siberian elm – from more than 300 acres of the Animas River valley.

However, lands targeted during that project focused only on property owners who had placed their land under a conservation easement. There remained the need to address other landowners in the valley, Mountain Studies Institute’s Amanda M. Kuenzi said.

As a result, MSI applied, and was awarded, a $195,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and an additional $52,000 from Colorado Parks and Wildlife for a three-year project to remove invasive plants from Bakers Bridge to the New Mexico line.

This week, crews from Southwest Conservation Corps embarked on the first leg of the project: a three-week effort on about 15 properties in the Animas Valley, including James Ranch and the Zink farm.

This fall’s removal, Kuenzi said, also serves as a pilot project aimed to garner interest from adjacent landowners.

“We really hope to get property owners who haven’t been involved to get aggressive on this,” Kuenzi said.

Kuenzi said because of diligent past efforts from Animas Valley landowners, as well as the city of Durango, among other entities, the presence of Russian olive and other invasive species isn’t nearly as problematic as in neighboring communities.

“If you go to Farmington, the Russian olive is wall to wall,” she said. “But we’ve worked on the problem here for decades, and that’s why our area isn’t overwhelmed. Still, we need to nip this problem in the bud so future generations don’t have to deal with it.”

Indeed, Cathy Metz, parks and recreation manager with the city of Durango, said the city has strategically fought Russian olive and other non-native plants on its property for years.

“We still have an ongoing monitoring situation, but we really don’t have many remaining on city property,” she said. “But certainly, we really advocate for collaborative effort to remove these species just because they are so invasive.”

Megan Graham, spokeswoman for La Plata County, said Russian olive is not on the list of weeds the county targets, but that the issue may be a topic of conversation later this month.

Russian olives are considered a “List B noxious weed,” which requires local governments to manage and limit their spread under Colorado state law.

Regardless, work carried out this week by Southwest Conservation Corp’s eight-person crew aims to cut down the plant. They then drop riparian-safe herbicide on the root so the plant doesn’t grow back.

“The hard part is really trying to spot all of them,” crew leader Alyssa Engdahl said while scouring the Zink property Wednesday. “And, of course, the thorns.”

The project next year will be four months, with the aim of extending into the Florida River watershed, a tributary of the Animas. The effort as a whole, Kuenzi said, largely depends on the community’s response.

“We really need all landowners’ participation to make this program a success and to ensure the health of our watershed for years to come,” she said.

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