If the Fish and Wildlife Service posted an FBI-style list of public enemies, the salt cedar tree, Tamarix aphylla, would certainly rank among the Most Wanted. Exotic plants threaten ecosystems throughout the U.S., but the problem is particularly acute across the unique riparian landscapes of the Southwest.
Since its introduction in the United States more than a century ago, salt cedar, also known as tamarisk, has invaded more than a million acres of land. Just by looking at the tamarisk you would never guess its true nature.
A large plant, it grows rapidly, draws massive amounts of water and expels lots of salt, choking off native vegetation in the process. When salt cedar takes over, the results are dire. “Dense stands covering acres and acres of land, turning a diverse plant community into a monoculture that pushes out native plants, birds and wildlife,” an SCA team at Cibola at National Wildlife Refuge noted in their journal.
What is the best way to halt salt cedar in its tracks? Remove it and then reintroduce native plants.
Mission impossible? Not for the SCA invasive plant eradication teams deployed last year at Cibola, Imperial and Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. At Cibola, SCA members pulled, cut and sprayed tens of thousands of invasives while educating local residents about the supportive role they can play.
Further south at Imperial, another SCA squad had what it described as “a real adventure.”
“The team got its first hands-on experience this week,” they wrote in their journal. “We sprayed, pulled, chain sawed, and loppered tamarisk trees. We got rid of most of them except for one particularly large tree, which we nicknamed the “Mother ship” and are itching to take care of the rest of it.”
And at Sevilleta in neighboring New Mexico, the third SCA team began their work in the refuge’s wetlands, “a daunting initial undertaking which we tackled with zeal, gusto and just a little trepidation.” Hundreds of salt cedar had been bulldozed from the site, along the Rio Grande, prior to the crew’s arrival. “Stands of native cottonwoods and willows were left unharmed,” they noted. “Our task: eradicate the remaining tamarisk. Our rallying cry...
Save the willows!"
Southwestern Willow Flycatcher Breeding Habitat along the Gila River, near Red Rock, New Mexico.
Photo Credit: USGS
According to a recent article in Southwest Farm Press, "One salt cedar is a giant straw, sucking as much as 200 gallons of water per day out of rivers, springs and wetlands. … When we remove the salt cedar, water begins to come back [as do the native cottonwoods and willow population.] But success demands a major program.”
At SCA, we are already there helping with that effort.
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