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Canadian River Riparian Restoration Project

Project seeks to control ‘invasive’ plants along Canadian River
Special to The Raton Range

The Canadian River Riparian Restoration Project is currently underway in Colfax & Harding County. The project seeks to control salt cedar, Russian olive, and other “invasive” plants along the Canadian River and its tributaries utilizing chemical, mechanical, and biological control.

Many county residents have seen the helicopter, either at rest in Raton or in action applying herbicides along the riparian areas (waterways) of the Canadian River and other contributing streams. According to Jack Chatfield, the project manager, the herbicide applications are being wrapped up for the season since plants are entering dormancy for the winter season.

In 2004, the state Legislature appropriated $4.8 million to address the problem of salt cedar, Russian olive and related non-native invasive plant species in New Mexico. Some of that money is being used to address salt cedar problems along the Canadian, Pecos and Rio Grande rivers this year. More than 3,800 acres are currently being treated along the Canadian River to reduce those invasive plant species.

Salt cedar, also called tamarisk, and Russian olive were introduced from Eurasia many years ago and are now widespread in the United States. Both salt cedar and Russian olive have been used as ornamental plants, but have become naturalized along streams, rivers and reservoirs and are rapidly replacing native riparian species.

Salt cedar trees require very large amounts of water each day, and force out native vegetation, endanger water tables, and interfere with the structure and stability of natural ecosystems. Because of it being non-native, salt cedar has no natural enemies such as disease and insects to keep its population in check. Salt cedar thrives in the arid conditions of New Mexico, reaching densities of 3,000 to 4,000 per acre along waterways.

Infestations such as those found along the Canadian River and its tributaries lowers ground water tables, dries up springs and marshy areas, and chokes out stream beds, causing an increase in flood damage, erosion and sedimentation, and contributing to lower water quality and quantity.

Studies indicate the most effective means of control on these non-native species is through the combination of herbicides, mechanical removal and biological control. The chemicals used on the plants have gone through research and testing programs monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency and have been deemed environmentally safe, project officials said. The chemicals have also been proven effective in many research trials conducted by New Mexico State University and other agricultural universities.

According to the project plan, plants not treated with herbicides may also be removed by mechanical means next year. Goats that feed on salt cedar may also be used to manage plant growth. Research is currently being conducted to come up with an insect that will feed only on salt cedar. Insect releases have been done on a limited basis in Eddy County, but have not been approved for widespread use.

Any landowner or manager who would like more information on the project can contact Jack Chatfield at 575-447-1613 or the Colfax County Cooperative Extension Service at 575-445-8071.