Tamarisk Coalition benefits local environment with collaboration work | PostIndependent.com

Tamarisk Coalition benefits local environment with collaboration work

Brittany Markert
Two Great Outdoors Colorado grants allowed Western Colorado Conservation Core to work for two weeks to remove two-and-a-half acres of nonnative plants, including tamarisk. The crews worked to replant dozens of cottonwood plants.
Submitted photo |

Tamarisk: the noxious, invasive plant that destroys riparian environments, is the key focus for Tamarisk Coalition — a nonprofit which restores the lands through collaboration work.

Since its inception in 1999 the coalition has removed hundreds of acres of tamarisk and Russian olive plants, along with other non-native plants, along local rivers and parks. Between Mesa County and the Utah border, totalling 4,000 acres, more than 10 percent is covered with tamarisk. Since the 1990s, 1,191 acres have been treated along the Colorado and Gunnison rivers.

Tamarisk Coalition often partners with local organizations including Western Colorado Conservation Corps, City of Grand Junction and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Tamarisk Coalition also works with local schools and colleges to educate those on the impacts of invasive species. In 2014, it provided education to more than 500 students.

“All our projects are about enhancing and beautifying the areas as well as increasing health and safety of the river system for people to enjoy,” said Cara Kukuraitis, Tamarisk Coalition’s outreach coordinator. “We are always looking for ways people can get involved even if its a tour of recent work sites and the importance of the river; ultimately connecting people with the unique and critical areas in the community.”

One way the nonprofit connects the community is by hosting a Raft the River event, which is set for Sunday, Aug. 23. It is the second year running the event, which includes river experts and tamarisk board members educating folks on the trip about the importance of removing invasive plant species. The float trip is currently full, but are encouraged to add the 2016 conference to calendars, which is set for Feb. 6, 2016 in Grand Junction.

While Tamarisk Coalition calls Mesa County home, it also works with folks throughout the southwest with restoring other rivers as well. Like the Dolores River Restorations Partnership, which has focused on restoring the river corridor along the Dolores River. In 2014, it restored more than 1,100 acres and replanted and reseeded more than 80 acres. Through partnership expenditures, more than $1.1 million was invested into local economies and created more than 60 jobs for youth and local contractors.

“Tamarisk Coalition collaborates with and supports the communities, land managers, and private landowners working to restore their rivers by helping them plan their projects and set holistic riparian restoration goals, secure grants to help get the work done, build capacity, engage partners, and access technical resources,” said Shannon Hatch, restoration coordinator. “In doing so, many of the river restoration collaboratives we work with also create jobs, employ, and educate, youth and engage volunteers.”


Tamarisk Coalition is currently working on eight different projects throughout western Colorado, including Connected Lakes, Monument Road, Watson Island and Matchett Park.

According to Hatch, the projects include secondary weed treatment and revegetation on almost 500 acres across Colorado’s Grand Valley from Palisade to Fruita. The Desert Rivers Collaborative section (which includes areas between Palisade and Fruita) have a budget of approximately $550,000 for projects.

“Rivers are the cornerstone of life in the West for humans, plants, and wildlife,” Hatch said. “While riparian areas (the corridors along stream and river banks, typically characterized by a distinct set of water-loving plants and trees) make up just one percent of land in the Western U.S., up to 80 percent of all wildlife depend on these areas at some point in their lifetime.”

She explained these areas are at risk due to the growing demands on land and water resources, which is threatened by the invasive, non-native plants. Hence, the work to remove the plants and replacing with important plant species like cottonwoods.

“[We] work to restore these remarkable riparian areas, with a vision of health and self-sustaining riparian ecosystems throughout the American west,” Hatch said.

The work done so far in 2015 at Connected Lakes is restoring 48 acres of wetland, riparian and upland habitat by removing tamarisk and Russian olive and revegetating with cottonwood trees, shrubs and grass seedings.

Tamarisk Coalition utilized Bookcliff Middle School students to educate the students with a hands-on experience.

Driving along Monument Road up to Colorado National Monument, one may notice more open space, which was work done by Tamarisk Coalition and Mesa County jail crews with the removal of tamarisk and Russian olive, which was mulched and broadcast on site. The jail crew was used to help clean up debris and remaining Russian olive trees.

An upcoming project in the works is a plan to implement tree and shrub planting along the Colorado Riverfront Trail. The trees will provide shade and shelter to recreational trail users and animals alike and erosion, flood and water quality protection.

“I think it is really going to add a lot to the aesthetics to the trail and is something we are excited to get the momentum going on,” Kukuraitis said.

So far, more than $10,000 has been raised of the $18,000 for the project. The project will use cottonwoods from local native plant suppliers.

“Depending on the site, restoring a riverside is a multi-staged event,” Hatch said. “The process of removing invasive plants, following up to treat re-sprouts, and revegetating that area with native plants can be complex and expensive. Also, since invasive plants know no boundaries, it becomes imperative that we collaborate across boundaries to accomplish this work together.”

To learn more about Tamarisk Coaltion, visit http://www.tamariskcoalition.org.

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