Eradicating invasive plant species can be a Sisyphean feat, but that's not stopping conservation groups from trying.
Ralph D'Alessandro is vice president of the board of supervisors for the Delta Conservation District. The DCD promotes wise stewardship of local resources through working directly with landowners, coordination of efforts, funding and other means. This fall he is assisting with grant-funded efforts to rid conservation lands in Hotchkiss of Russian olive and tamarisk, two non-native species taking over river banks and riparian areas throughout the Western U.S.
Both non-native B-list invasive species are well-established in the North Fork area and efforts to eradicate them have been underway for several years. They choke out native species and soak up massive amounts of water, said D'Alessandro. Tamarisk, also known as saltcedar, adds salinity to the soils and spreads "unbelievably fast."
On the Hotchkiss Ranch property in Hotchkiss, the non-native vegetation had grown so thick that it was difficult for cattle to graze and seek protection in the native cottonwood groves. Tree rings on one Russian olive from the property show the tree was 39 years old.
The Colorado River Water Conservation District awarded the DCD a $10,000 grant earmarked for projects on public lands or lands protected under conservation easements to fight the weeds on the Hotchkiss Ranch, which is conserved in partnership with the Black Canyon Regional Land Trust. The project employs current and former Western Colorado Conservation Corps members already trained in the removal of invasive plants. The grant ended last June, but was extended due to the DCD's difficulty in finding qualified workers, said D'Alessandro.
The weed problem stretches from the south east corner of the Hotchkiss property all the way to the Delta County Fairgrounds, said D'Allesandro. In 2015 the DCD partnered on a riparian restoration project with Colorado Open Lands and the WSCC on a $25,000 grant to begin removing invasive vegetation from the property. They've already gone back and removed seedlings and suckers that sprouted after the trees were removed.
Fall and winter are the best times to remove Russian olive, said D'Alessandro. From May through August the trees are pushing up water and growing so fast that when they are cut down they fight to survive. They have seen as much as 85 percent re-growth with tree removal projects during that time.
D'Alessandro said the project will continue until the grant runs out. To keep the project going he's seeking more grant funding.