West targets invasive weed

Conservationists may encourage Coloradans to save water, but one unwanted Colorado resident isn't heeding the advice.

A plan designed by U.S. Reps. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., and Steve Pearce, R-N.M., aims to combat tamarisk, an invasive weed residing along the banks of streams and rivers. The plan calls for a complete assessment of tamarisk's grip on Western lands and then a series of projects to address the invasion.

"As the arid West continues to search for solutions to its water scarcity, we must do everything in our power to protect our water sources," McInnis said in a press release.

Tamarisk absorbs gallons of precious water every day. In light of the water battles between urban Front Range communities and Western Slope residents, that's a loss Colorado cannot currently afford.

McInnis's office reports that tamarisk absorbs as much as 4.5 million acre-feet of water per year, enough water to supply the needs of 20 million people. One shrub can soak up 300 gallons of water in one day. Tamarisk has displaced native vegetation on nearly 2 million Western acres.

In Dinosaur National Monument, half of the park's 1,000 invasive plant infested acres are infested with tamarisk, said Emily Spencer, weed management planning specialist. The infestation has, in part, spurred the park to develop a weed management plan, utilizing methods as diverse as herbicide application, grazing, and burning.

McInnis' plan would first determine the quantity of water lost to tamarisk invasion as well as the amount of water that has been saved due to existing current conditions. The assessment would identify the optimum techniques for control and removal of the species on various land types and how to prevent the species' regrowth and reintroduction.

The legislation, known as the Salt Cedar and Russian Olive Control Assessment and Demonstration Act, would authorize the secretaries of Interior and Agriculture to spend $5 million on the assessment and $18 million annually from 2005 through 2009 to carry out the project.

Five species of tamarisk, also known as salt cedar, live in the United States, according to the National Plant Alliance, a consortium of government agencies dedicated to plant control. Tamarisk was first introduced in North America as an ornamental shrub in the early 1800s, brought here from Eastern European countries of the same latitude as Colorado and New Mexico.

Having found a climate similar to its native lands, tamarisk thrived, Spencer said.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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