Years of work are paying off along the once tamarisk-infested banks of the Dolores River.
Winding down from the headwaters of the San Juan Mountains in Colorado, the Dolores River passes through deep canyons, broad valleys and beneath the breathtaking red sandstone topography of Gateway to join the Colorado River near Moab.
Now, thanks to the work of several federal, state and non-profit agencies and volunteers, the riverbanks have been restored to their natural state.
Led by the Bureau of Land Management’s Canyon Country Fire Zone fuels program, the project aimed to remove invasive tamarisk from the banks of the Dolores River and restore native vegetation.
“Tamarisk is just a huge issue,” said Jason Kirks, fire management specialist with the Moab field office of the BLM. “One problem is just the fire potential in the summertime. It was so sick and so overgrown.
“And on an ecological standpoint, the tamarisk has degraded our desert ecosystems because it’s taken out so much of the native species. Those are the two main issues our people wanted to tackle.”
So working with the Dolores River Restoration Partnership, the Arbor Day Foundation, Rim to Rim Restoration, Marathon Oil Corporation, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Tamarisk Coalition and Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative, the group set about ridding the riverbanks of tamarisk.
First, a beetle that eats only tamarisk was released, Kirks said.
After it killed thousands of acres of tamarisk along the river, workers used chainsaws and other tools to remove the dead tamarisk.
Finally, the land was ready for new plants.
This spring and last, workers and volunteers planted a total of 3,800 plants along the Dolores River. They were all native vegetation – species such as salt grass, privet, woods rose, service berry, willow, box elder and cottonwood – that had been squeezed out by tamarisk.
The results are satisfying, Kirks said.
“Talking with everybody that’s been working on the project, they’re really excited to see the change in the ecosystem out there,” he said. “Before, you’d see this huge wall of dead tamarisk. Now, it’s nice because you can go out there and see the river, which you couldn’t before.
“You can see new cottonwoods and new willows, as well as all other shrubs. You can also see deer and wild turkeys coming in. They were there before – you just couldn’t see them.”
Work will continue on the Dolores, Colorado and San Juan Rivers over the next five years, Kirks said, thanks to the BLM and the Dolores River Restoration Partnership.
The partnership was recently named one of 10 river restoration projects to serve as models of the America’s Great Outdoors River Initiative, which aims to conserve and restore key rivers across the nation, expand outdoor recreational opportunities and support jobs in local communities. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar made the determination.
For more information on this and other projects, visit the Utah BLM on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BLMUtah.