Lessons Learned: Assumptions and Realities of Restoration Alongside the Beetle 

Sarah Sayles

Sarah Sayles, PhD, Executive Director, Gila Watershed Partnership

Between 2012 and 2014, Arizona began preparing for the arrival of the tamarisk leaf beetle, a beneficial insect released in both Texas and Utah to help those populations deal with salt cedar on overwhelmed river systems. Stakeholders in Arizona began anticipating what the beetle might do, and on the Gila River the Walton Family Foundation provided one small nonprofit with the lifechanging funding to join the battle. This funding allowed the Gila Watershed Partnership (GWP), once a member organization that capped wells and pulled vehicles out of the river, to become a well-respected and successful habitat restoration organization. But the beetle took a long time to get to Arizona. In Lessons Learned: Assumptions and Realities of Restoration Alongside the Beetle, Sarah Sayles will discuss the pros and cons of being funded so early in the process, frustrations and triumphs along the way, and what needs to happen next. Some of those lessons include creating contracts with the organization’s own nursery in order to cover the true value of plants for restoration, developing basins for water catchment, and planting grasses with trees in order to shade the roots and encourage growth. On the other side, starting restoration too early in response to a future beetle has led to diminished funding at a time when more is needed, inability for the organization to respond positively to turnover, and climate-driven problems that could not have been foreseen. Finally, she will discuss how collaboration, and especially cross-boundary work with similar organizations in New Mexico, may be the only way to meet the lofty goals set almost a decade ago to provide habitat for endangered species in the wake of the beetle.