November 05, 2006

The tamarisk war

Pluvialis blogged her research trip to Uzbekistan and gave me a shudder, for she included a forest of poplar and tamarisk.

After years of regarding tamarisk as a horrible invasive pest in Colorado and elsewhere, you tend to forget that there is another part of the world where it is part of a functioning ecosystem.

Charles Bedford of the Nature Conservancy writes in today's Denver Post of the creation of the (deep breath) Salt Cedar and Russian Olive Control Assessment and Demonstration Act, now in Congress. (Salt cedar=tamarisk)

The photo shows tamarisk on the Colorado River in the lower Grand Canyon (Dept. of the Interior).

Tamarisk trees in lower Grand CanyonThe indictment:

Its prolific seeds and high salt content enable it to quickly replace native cottonwoods, willows, grasses and other plants, degrading the habitat for native wildlife, especially birds. Its spread also decreases forage for livestock and increases fire hazards.

But what drives the funding is the water it sucks up (as do cottonwoods, willows, etc., but let's not go there).

Today's Pueblo Chieftain had two articles: goats versus tamarisk and beetles versus tamarisk. I have mentioned the beetle trials before. (Links may expire.)

First the goats:

On cue, a few of the more media-savvy goats began furiously gnawing on small tamarisk plants by the river, knocking them over and munching down branches like so many French fries.

Which must be how they taste. Tamarisk, also known as salt cedar, are infamous for leaching salt to the surface. Their leaves increase the salinity of the very ground they grow in. Goats are one of the few animals that find them tasty.

As to the beetles, sometimes bureaucracy's right hand knows not what the left hand does:

In 2001, the beetles were released, but so far have not ventured far from the original test site below Pueblo Dam, because there are few large stands in the immediate area and their population has been knocked back by mosquito spraying.

However, if you view tamarisk as intrinsically evil, I suppose that the Uzbek ranger on horseback would like to have some words with you.

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