Russian Olive and Tamarisk Can Be Tamed on the Colorado River

Digital Journal
September 8th, 2014
Youth Corps Partnership Proves Russian Olive and Tamarisk Can Be Tamed on the Colorado River
Experts acknowledge that invasive plant species such as Tamarisk--a shrub that guzzles water, degrades habitat and soil, and blocks human and wildlife access to the rivers it infests--may never be completely eliminated from the Colorado River watershed. But on a wildly popular 25-mile stretch near Grand Junction, Colorado, persistent efforts have finally given land managers the upper hand.
Thanks to a youth conservation corps partnership funded by the RBC Blue Water Project, a long-term project to restore the Colorado River as it flows through McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area is coming to fruition this week. The RBC Blue Water Project, a ten-year program dedicated to protecting fresh water, granted $10,000 to the Conservation Lands Foundation to help fund an eight-person crew with the Western Colorado Conservation Corps (WCCC) to cut out tamarisk and Russian olive trees from the banks and campsites along the Colorado River between the Loma and Westwater accesses.
The invasive trees and shrubs deplete water resources and degrade habitat, limiting both human and animal use of the waterway. The 25-mile stretch of river, known as "Ruby-Horsethief," is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and is one of the most popular in the state for boating and camping. It has been the focus of a systematic 15-year restoration effort.
Troy Schnurr, BLM Park Ranger, has been guiding riparian restoration work on the Ruby-Horsethief stretch of the Colorado River for 15 years. This season marks the last time a large-scale chainsaw crew will be needed to cut these invasive species from large areas of riverbank.
"While we will always need to monitor and keep the spread of invasive species in check on this 25-mile stretch of the Colorado," explains Schnurr, "after this season the really heavy and large-scale work we have needed conservation crews to address is coming to a close. It's an important and gratifying accomplishment--for the river and for all those who enjoy it."
BLM staff and volunteers will continue to plant and protect native cottonwood trees, plant coyote willow and other natives, and monitor habitat and campsites. The Colorado River is a vital source of water for agricultural and urban areas in the Southwest. Drought and over-allocation of the river have placed significant stress on water supplies, river health, fish and wildlife and recreation in Colorado. Work to restore the river will help mitigate demand of this precious water resource.
McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area is visited by approximately 10,000 people annually, and so far in 2014, BLM has issued 1,470 permits to paddle and camp along the river. It is part of the National Conservation Lands, the most ecologically rich and culturally significant public lands managed by BLM. Other National Conservation Lands in Colorado include Gunnison Gorge, Dominguez-Escalante and Canyons of the Ancients.
"This is the second year in a row that RBC has supported us with a generous gift for this important project," said Brian O'Donnell, executive director of the Conservation Lands Foundation. "McInnis Canyons and the Colorado River are cornerstones of the National Conservation Lands and important for wildlife and people alike. RBC's gift has given this partnership and the river an important boost."
"Cutting out tamarisk and Russian olive is an extremely arduous but critical task, as these invasive plants pose a threat to the Colorado River's water supply," said Jeff Roberts, director of WCCC. "This gift will help protect the river so that the native flora and fauna can continue to depend on it, and people can continue to enjoy its beauty and recreational opportunities."
The funding supports the Veterans-Youth Conservation Corps Partnership, initiated by the Conservation Lands Foundation in 2012 with the Colorado Youth Corps Association. The partnership aims to enhance water quality and wildlife habitat and create jobs on National Conservation Lands, and is a unique collaboration of private funders, youth conservation corps, veterans and community volunteers.
The grant from RBC is part of the company's "Blue Water Project," a 10-year global charitable commitment of $50 million to help provide access to drinkable, swimmable, fishable water, now and for future generations. RBC has pledged over $41 million to more than 700 organizations worldwide that protect watersheds and promote access to clean drinking water, with an additional $8.8 million pledged to universities for water programs.
"From trail construction to invasive species removal, youth corps crews play a vital role in public lands management in Colorado," said BLM Colorado State Director Ruth Welch. "We truly appreciate the collaboration between the Conservation Lands Foundation, RBC and the Colorado Youth Corps Association as their efforts expand our capabilities while creating employment opportunities for youth."

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