2015 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper signs HB15-1006 (Invasive Phreatophyte Grant Program)

May 14, 2015
Tamarisk

Tamarisk

From KVNF (Laura Palmisano):

House Bill 1006 creates the Invasive Phreatophyte Grant Program.

Governor John Hickenlooper signed the bill at a ceremony in Montrose on Tuesday…

Republican Representative Don Coram of Montrose sponsored the bill.

He called the invasive plants ‘water thieves’ that menace riparian areas.

“I truly believe the eradication of phreatophytes is the first tool in the Colorado Water Plan,” Coram said at the signing ceremony.

Coram said these plants are a problem in his district and across the state.

“If you travel the Colorado River [and] the Dolores River for example, it’s a thicket in many areas that you can’t even walk through, but it’s also a water quality issue because the tree sucks up the water and it drops salt so nothing else really [can] grow,” he said.

The water conservation board will oversee the program and distribute grants for projects. The program is set to end in 2018.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Bushwhacked: Tamarisk, a water-guzzling alien, is wreaking havoc in the West — Colorado Springs Independent

April 29, 2015

From the Colorado Springs Post Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Because of the plant’s resistance to heat and drought, the Army Corps of Engineers used it in the mid-19th century to stabilize riverbanks against erosion. Then, during the severe drought of the 1930s on the Great Plains, farmers deployed it and its companion, invasive Russian olive, to provide windbreaks.

In the decades since, the story has shifted. Tamarisk, which can grow to 20 feet tall, has proliferated with a vengeance, colonizing thousands of miles of riparian corridors in the West, including those along the Front Range. It guzzles water, squeezes out any competitors, and sterilizes wetlands by leaving soils parched with salinity — hence its other name, saltcedar.

Besides being hard to destroy, a single plant’s blossoms produce thousands of seeds, which easily take root. Tamarisk, by one account, has multiplied 150-fold in just 100 years and now occupies up to 1.5 million acres in the western United States.

Even as water resources are taxed amid drought conditions, this ever-spreading exotic drinks freely via taproots that can reach 50 feet into the ground. One analysis put its consumption of water along the Arkansas River between Pueblo and the Kansas state line as enough to serve 376,000 people annually.

The body of research on the plant is massive and growing. Many have taken up the cause of eradication: government agencies, nonprofits and thousands of volunteers, as well as scientists and researchers, including a Colorado College botany professor and his students. Congress even adopted a law in 2006 ordering the Interior and Agriculture departments to get involved, though significant funding was never allocated.

Some new strategies for controlling tamarisk — including deployment of an insect, which has grown controversial due to its destruction of habitat for an endangered species — show promise. But the war on tamarisk is far from over, and warming temperatures due to climate change could help it spread farther by creating hospitable conditions in new areas.

Its role as villain may be relatively new, but tamarisk has fully embraced the part by being very hard to vanquish.

According to the Global Invasive Species Database, there are three varieties of tamarisk on Earth: tamarix aphylla (shrub), tamarix parviflora (tree) and tamarix ramosissima (tree, shrub). The last type prevails in the American West, in a spread the database refers to as “a massive invasion.”[…]

Eradication efforts began on the local level sporadically in the 1940s, but didn’t get traction on a wider scale until the 1990s, when a project on the Rio Grande River south of Albuquerque was undertaken.

About 15 years ago, the Tamarisk Coalition was formed. Today it works with more than 100 partners to restore riparian lands overrun with tamarisk through education and removal projects.

Some of those were undertaken along the Dolores and Colorado rivers with the help of Troy Schnurr, a ranger with the Bureau of Land Management in Grand Junction. The stretch Schnurr and others worked on isn’t accessible by heavy equipment, so crews had to raft down the river, work by hand with chainsaws and apply herbicides to stumps.

The project covered 25 miles and took 15 years.

“It can be overwhelming when you start,” Schnurr says. “There’s a lot of repair work, reseeding, replacement because the tamarisk has been there so long. That plant’s gonna be around for quite a while.”

Shelly Simmons, assistant district forester with the Colorado State Forest Service, explains it like this.

“What happens is resprouting,” she says. “Tamarisk has an aggressive root system. Once it does get established, you’re going to have to watch it for five years and treat it for regrowth. It’s rare if you get 100 percent control the first time you try to control it.”

Simmons works with volunteers, land owners and various agencies, including conservation districts, attacking tamarisk in the Purgatoire basin, Chico Creek, Fountain Creek, Huerfano Creek and the main stem of the Arkansas River.

“There’s been a lot of workshops in the Lower Arkansas Valley over the years,” she says. “We focus on riparian restoration, so we’ve had a lot of land managers and land owners attend those workshops. If a landowner feels they have the equipment and the means, they can undertake projects on their own land.” That was the case in an area along the Arkansas east of Pueblo and south of Highway 50, where tamarisk was cut and piled into heaps several years ago…

The act did result in a peer-reviewed assessment of tamarisk, though, completed in 2010 by the U.S. Geological Survey. That assessment puts a lot of stock in saltcedar leaf beetles (Diorhabda elongata), citing a study area in Nevada that showed a 65 percent mortality rate in saltcedar five years after the beetle was unleashed there. The beetles “consume saltcedar leaves, depleting root energy reserves until they are exhausted and the plant dies,” the assessment says.

These beetles came to Colorado about a decade ago, Beaugh says. Initially imported from Asia where the plant originated, the beetles are collected from areas on the Western Slope, where they’re well-established, and housed at the Palisade Insectary, run by the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Biological Pest Control Program. From there, they’re shipped around the state, including to the Arkansas River corridor and Fountain Creek.

They arrive in cardboard jugs that resemble ice cream containers. Simmons says workers perch the cartons amid tamarisk bushes, and simply open the lids. The beetles, 1,500 per jug, crawl out and go to work. About 10,000 beetles are released per site, Simmons says, ideally “where tamarisk trees are younger and more succulent.”

A Colorado Agriculture Department newsletter says the beetle had settled into the Arkansas Basin by 2012, where some sites have been defoliated multiple times and up to 60 percent of the target tamarisk trees have been killed. The state has taken to calling the beetle “a valuable management tool.”

It also lies at the heart of the CC professor’s latest research. Heschel wants to know how the beetle affects tamarisk’s consumption of water; data to date suggest that in some cases, a tamarisk plant under siege only gets more aggressive.

“When the beetle attacks tamarisk,” Heschel says, “tamarisk tends to increase its water use to compensate for getting attacked.”

The study, which includes one site just south of the Fountain Creek Regional Park Nature Center, also looks at whether tamarisk that survive the beetle attack somehow become even heartier and more thirsty. “Is that what we’re accidentally doing?” Heschel says. “I don’t know the answer to that.”[…]

Southwestern Willow flycatcher

Southwestern Willow flycatcher

Use of the beetle, however, is being curtailed in some other states due to its potential to destroy habitat for the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher. In September 2013, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Maricopa Audubon Society, in Arizona, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, alleging the beetles were destroying the songbird’s nesting areas. The lawsuit, according to the Los Angeles Times, accused the department’s Animal and Plant Inspection Service of failing to protect the flycatcher, which nests in tamarisk thickets. The case is pending before a federal judge.

Robin Silver with the Center for Biological Diversity says while the lawsuit points to problems in Utah, Arizona and Nevada, the beetles also have invaded nesting areas in southwest and south central Colorado. “[Federal agriculture officials] said, ‘Don’t worry, because the native plants will come back,'” Silver says. But he argues that “unless you change the hydrology, you’ll end up with nothing” in the way of vegetation after tamarisk has been removed. “The only chance you have,” he says, “is to get out ahead of the beetles and change some of the hydrology for plant recovery. [Officials] don’t want to do that because it costs money.”

Patrick Shafroth, a research ecologist with the USGS at the Fort Collins Science Center, agrees that restoration is crucial in determining what vegetation comes next in the context of tamarisk control. As stated in a 2011 paper by USGS and other researchers about consequences of using the beetle, “Conditions in many areas now occupied by tamarisk have been so altered anthropogenically that recolonization by native willows and cottonwoods is unlikely without intensive restoration efforts.”

Considering the sky-high cost and massive efforts to restore large areas affected by the beetle, the paper says, “widespread tamarisk mortality will likely result in a net loss in riparian habitat for at least a decade or more.”[…]

And then there’s the wild card of climate change. Despite all attempts to rid rivers and streams of tamarisk, the hearty plant could get a leg up from rising temperatures. While Shafroth considers the question of climate change’s influence “uncertain,” the 2010 USGS assessment and other scholarly works say it could foster tamarisk’s proliferation, given that it thrives in hot, dry weather, and parts of Colorado remain in moderate to severe drought conditions.

From the assessment: “Further expansion of saltcedar northward (and to higher elevations) is likely to occur due to climate warming.”

All of which makes Shafroth wonder if this scoundrel of the West is a cause, or merely a symptom, of the real problem.

More tamarisk control coverage here and here.


Been seeing tamarisk beetle kills in S. Nev. Updated map also shows ’em converging on New Mexico

February 27, 2015

2014 Tamarisk leaf beetle distribution map via the Tamarisk Coalition

2014 Tamarisk leaf beetle distribution map via the Tamarisk Coalition

From the Tamarisk Coalition website:

Each year, with the help of numerous partners across eleven states and Mexico, TC produces an annual distribution map that notes the presence and absence of Diorhabda spp. from sampling sites across the west. These data in no way represent all locations where the tamarisk beetle may exist, but give a broad perspective of beetle dispersal, providing land managers with information that may help with their integrated pest management plans, restoration strategies, and funding opportunities. If you would like to participate in the program, or help fill any “gaps” you may see in current data on the map, please visit our tamarisk beetle monitoring program page.

For 2014, TC would like to thank more than 30 partners directly involved in providing this year’s data, and more than 60 that have provided data during the span of TC’s involvement in tracking beetle locations across the west. This year showed rapid population expansion in Kansas, Oklahoma, and eastern New Mexico, with a slowing of spread along the Rio Grande in New Mexico, and a “stall” in southern Arizona. This decreased expansion, as compared to movement the last few years, is most likely indicative of the Northern Tamarisk Beetle (Diorhabda carinulata) reaching the southern limits of its physiological constraints along the Colorado, Little Colorado, and Rio Grande. There are three other species of tamarisk beetle in North America, and this year was the first time that all four species were recorded in a single state, New Mexico.

The production of the Annual Tamarisk Beetle Distribution Map is generously funded by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation.

More tamarisk control coverage here.


Grand Junction to hire Colorado Youth Corps Association youth to remove tamarisk #ColoradoRiver

January 13, 2015
Tamarisk

Tamarisk

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

The city of Grand Junction will use the $15,000 it recently received from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) to remove tamarisk and Russian olive from the undeveloped Matchett Park area.

Because the GOCO funds were awarded as part of a Colorado Youth Corps Association program, the city will hire 10 youth ages 14 to 25 to complete the work, which is expected to take two weeks and to begin this spring.

The brush must be removed before moving forward with the master plan for the Indian Wash area, according to city officials.

Mesa County is one of 14 counties throughout the state in which Colorado Youth Corps Association programs will take place this spring and summer.

The projects, which will employ 200 youth from across the state, will enhance Colorado’s trails, parks, open spaces and wildlife habitat.

The overarching goal is to employ youth and young adults to work on critical outdoor recreation and land conservation projects in partnership with local governments and open space agencies.

All projects throughout the state will be completed with GOCO funds, portions of which come from Colorado Lottery proceeds.

For information about the Matchett Park project, call Traci Wieland at 254-3846 or email traciw@gjcity.org.

For information about the youth corps, call Jeff Roberts with the Western Colorado Conservation Corps at 241-1027 or email jroberts@mesapartners.org.

More tamarisk control coverage here.


Leaf-eating beetles laying waste to salt cedar trees — the Albuquerque Journal

October 12, 2014

tamariskleafbeetle

From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

Introduced in the 19th century to protect railroad bridge abutments, praised for its ability to protect riverbanks from erosion, vilified for alleged water-sucking ways while simultaneously defended as wildlife habitat, the story of the Eurasian tamarisk – also known as salt cedar – is a textbook example of unintended consequences.

The beetle, introduced in small populations in an attempt to control the tamarisk, is the latest example. Brought from Europe to Utah and Colorado a decade ago, along with small populations in Texas, the beetle has run amok, spreading far beyond the narrow range biologists predicted.

After initial beetle arrival in 2012, the beetle rapidly spread uninvited up and down New Mexico’s rivers.

“Last year was really the year of the beetle,” said Oglesby, an attorney at a University of New Mexico water policy think tank and board member of the Tamarisk Coalition, a nonprofit tracking the beetle’s spread. “It came charging down the Jemez. It came charging down the Rio Grande, and now it’s charging up the Pecos as well.”

The beetles lay their eggs on tamarisks, with their larval offspring eating the leaves, quickly turning green patches of trees brown. Depending on local conditions, they often do not kill the tree outright, leaving it bristling with dead growth that nevertheless can sprout new leaves the following year.

Getting rid of tamarisk always has been an article of faith along Western rivers, but the dying trees along rivers’ edges in New Mexico and around the West are raising new questions – about fire risk and lost habitat for birds and other creatures that have made their homes in the artificial forests…

Oglesby saw the entire panoply of the tree’s history on display as he and a group of colleagues kayaked down the Rio Grande north of Albuquerque one recent fall afternoon.

Tamarisk swarmed over the river’s banks, crowding out native vegetation. In some areas, humans had intervened at great expense to clear them, creating an open bosque cottonwood forest.

But everywhere the scrubby tamarisk remained, there were signs of beetles chomping their way through them.

Formed to pursue habitat restoration along Western rivers, the Colorado-based Tamarisk Coalition now has become the de facto chronicler of the beetle’s spread. The group’s 2014 monitoring efforts are not yet complete, said Ben Bloodworth, who is overseeing the effort for the group.

But preliminary reports suggest that the beetle has become firmly established in Bernalillo and Valencia counties, and that a second population of beetles introduced in Texas has made its way through Las Cruces and is moving north up the Rio Grande.

The first beetle introductions, in Colorado and Utah, were approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with the belief that the beetle’s impacts would be local.

Once it became clear the beetle was spreading much farther than expected, the agency stopped the program, but the beetle has continued to spread, undeterred…

For now, action in the middle Rio Grande is limited to monitoring the beetle’s progress. “People are just waiting and watching,” Oglesby said.

More Tamarisk control coverage here here and here.


2014 Colorado legislation SB14-195 funds phreatophyte study in the South Platte Basin #COleg

June 18, 2014

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Many farmers and others applauded the recent signing of a bill aimed at addressing a major water issue in the region — vegetation along the rivers, which consumes about 40 percent as much water as all cities in northern Colorado combined, studies show.

Signed into law this month, Senate Bill 195, co-sponsored by Scott Renfroe, R-Eaton, allows the Colorado Water Conservancy Board to use funds for a two-year-plus study on the South Platte River watershed where it was impacted by the 2013 flood. The study will attempt to determine the relationship between high groundwater and increases in non-beneficial water consumption of phreatophytes — particularly non-native tamarisk, salt cedars, Russian olives and other such plants along rivers. The bill also calls for developing a cost analysis for the removal of the unwanted phreatophytes in the South Platte Basin. The final report is expected to be presented to the General Assembly by Dec. 31, 2016.

“The amount of plants along the river … and the amount of water we lose because of them … just gets worse and worse every year for us,” said Frank Eckhardt, a LaSalle-area farmer and member of the South Platte Roundtable — a group made up of water officials and experts in the region who convene monthly to discuss ways of solving the region’s future water gaps.

Eckhardt is also chairman of the board for the Western Mutual and Farmers Independent irrigation companies, which, combined, deliver water to about 15,000 acres of farmland in the LaSalle/Gilcrest areas.

Eckhardt said his ditch companies removed some vegetation along their ditches and saw improvements in those water supplies.

The bill talks of the CWCB working with Colorado State University and the Colorado Department of Agriculture on its study, and also notes funding for the study and report could come from unused dollars in an existing $1 million state fund.

“Rather than spend $1 million to study the problem, there’s a lot of us who’d rather see that $1 million go toward more quickly removing some of those plants,” Eckhardt added. “Still, this was a good step.”

A broader study of the South Platte basin, conducted last year by the Colorado Water Institute, showed that phreatophytes continue to increase, resulting in large quantities of non-beneficial consumptive water use — perhaps as much as 250,000 acre feet per year, or 80 billion gallons. According to 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative study, all of the South Platte Basin’s municipalities used a little over 600,000 acre feet. That being the case, approval of the study comes as welcome news to many water users and water officials in the ag-intense South Platte River Basin, which includes all or portions of eight of the state’s top-10 ag-producing counties, in addition to many of the fastest growing cities in Colorado.

Many South Platte water users see invasive phreatophytes — deep-rooted plants that obtain water from permanent ground supplies or from the water table — as a major problem and potential threat to agriculture.

In all years, and especially in years like 2012 — one in which rainfall was at a record low, some farmers’ irrigation ditches were running dry and cities were having to watch their supplies closely — many agree some of that water could be going to a more beneficial use than quenching the thirst of vegetation along banks in the South Platte basin.

The Senate Bill 195 study won’t solve the problem, many acknowledge, but it represents another step in the right direction — although some still have questions about the bill.

“There’s still a lot of explanation needed regarding how the dollars will be spent, among other issues,” said Bob Streeter, a South Platte Roundtable member, and head of the roundtable’s phreatophyte committee. “We’re looking forward to having some of that explained to us.”

While Streeter acknowledges that phreatophytes are an issue, he, like others, questions how much water users would actually benefit in the long run if that vegetation was eradicated.

Streeter and others agree some kind of vegetation would be needed in place of the removed phreatophytes because root systems are necessary for keeping the river’s banks from eroding, and vegetation would be needed to provide habitats for wildlife in those areas and flood control.

The study isn’t the first step aimed at the phreatophytes issue. Most recently, the Colorado Youth Corps Association and Colorado Water Conservation Board, a division of the Department of Natural Resources, is funding invasive plant species mitigation projects throughout Colorado in an effort to preserve and protect the state’s water resources. Five projects in 2014 — funded through a $50,000 grant from the CWCB — will be conducted by Colorado Youth Conservation Association-accredited youth corps in conjunction with local project sponsors in four counties throughout the state.

The projects are designed to control a variety of invasive phreatophyte plants. The Weld County Youth Conservation Corps, for example, will receive $15,000 to remove invasive vegetation from riverbanks and sandbars of the South Platte River.

The CWCB, local governments and organizations also have put together other efforts to limit the amount of vegetation that now lines the banks across the state — some of which are plants that couldn’t be found along the river a century ago.

With more thorough studies required and millions of dollars needed to help reduce the number of phreatophytes along rivers, no one is expecting immediate action that would significantly help address the looming water gap.

However, despite the uncertainties, recent years — like 2012 — serve as a reminder that water shortages are likely to be an issue down the road as the population grows in northern Colorado, and all possible solutions need to be thrown on the table to avoid the expected water-supply gap.

The Statewide Water Supply Initiative study estimates the South Platte River Basin alone could face a municipal and industrial water-supply gap of between 36,000 and 190,000 acre feet by 2050.

More invasive specie coverage here.


Tamarisk Coalition “Raft the River” event, June 29 #ColoradoRiver

June 2, 2014
Colorado River -- photo via Wikipedia

Colorado River — photo via Wikipedia

Click here for the inside skinny.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,244 other followers

%d bloggers like this: