Tamarisk eradication seminar

Nature Conservancy hosts program on water-robbing plants

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When an area botanist stumbled on a Tamarisk plant at Pearl Lake State Park last summer, Matt Custer knew it was time to take action.

"We formed the Routt County Invasive Plant Posse," said Custer, the Routt County weed control supervisor. Custer is one of four speakers scheduled to appear Thursday at "Tamarisk in the West," a program hosted by the Nature Conservancy.

Tamarisk is a non-native invasive plant that thrives along the banks of the West's major rivers. Tamarisk is the focus of a widespread eradication effort. Not only does it crowd out important native plants, but the deep-rooted plant sucks up a remarkable amount of the region's precious water.

U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, wrote in a letter to the National Forest Foundation that a single Tamarisk plant can absorb up to 300 gallons of water per day. Total absorption estimates in the West range from 2 million acre-feet to 45.5 million acre-feet of water per year. That's enough to supply 20 million people or irrigate more than 1 million acres of cropland.

"Last year we thought we were OK on Tamarisk," Custer said. "We found a few isolated patches (on the Yampa River) near Hayden. But then a Nature Conservancy staffer on her day off found it at Pearl Lake. Last year, during the worst of the drought, Tamarisk began showing up at high-elevation lakes."

Custer enlisted the help of six volunteers last summer to help him search for and map Tamarisk plants in Routt County. He'll reveal what was learned at Thursday night's meeting.

Tamarisk originally was imported from southeastern Europe and Asia and used in some environments as a windbreak. Efforts to eradicate the plant have been successful in some places where crews cut the stumps of the shrub back to the ground and immediately applied herbicide to the stumps.

Gov. Bill Owens has issued an executive order directing the Department of Natural Resources to develop a plan that would lead to the eradication of tamarisk on public lands within 10 years.

Among Thursday's speakers will be Tim Carlson, an environmental engineer who also is executive director of the Tamarisk Coalition. He will discuss "Tamarisk: Water and Politics, do they Mix?"

Other presenters include David Merritt, a riparian ecologist, and Tamara Naumann, a botanist with the National Park Service at Dinosaur National Monument. Naumann formed a "weed warrior" program that has involved more than 3,500 volunteers since its beginning in 1996. She is working on an interdisciplinary research program to tackle ecosystem health issues along the Yampa and Green rivers.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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