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Two work crews remove 65,000 invasive plants from Verde River

Cottonwood Journal Extra of Cottonwood, Arizona

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Invasive plants are facing a combined foe: Friends of Verde River Gfeenway and the Verde Watershed Restoration Coalition.

The groups have successfully completed their first treatment season of removing invasive vegetation along the riparian corridor of the Verde River and its tributaries. Work crews removed or killed more than 65,000 invasive plants.

The Friends, an affiliate of Arizona State Parks Foundation, is a nonprofit organization preserving, the scenic, natural, historic, cultural and recreational resources of the Verde River Greenway corridor.

One of its programs is the River Restoration and Enhancement Program. Through the program, the Friends work together with government agencies, conservation organizations and private landowners to plan and implement floodplain and riparian habitat improvement projects within the greenway.

During the last three years, it has worked on dozens of river restoration projects.

The greenway provides a habitat for blue heron, hawks, ducks, coyotes, raccoons, mule deer, beavers, frogs, turtles, snakes and toads. The Verde River and surrounding riparian corridor support nearly 20 threatened or endangered species including river otter, bald eagles, Southwestern willow flycatchers and lowland leopard frogs.

According to Jones, the coalition started its on-the-ground battle against invasive plants in March with a series of demonstration projects. Crews tested methods for removing invasive plants along the Verde River and its major tributaries. In addition to testing removal and treatment techniques, the demo projects served as a tool to help educate the public on the threats posed by non-native invasive plants.

In October, two full-time crews began work: the first was made up of eight young people from the Coconino Rural Environment Corps. The second team was made up of previously unemployed veterans hired through the Vetraplex. Both crews completed a training program that included saw training, plant identification, risk management, herbicide applicator training and testing and leave-no-trace practices.

According to Jones, the crews prioritized the upper Verde River, west Clear Creek and Oak Creek, beginning in the upper reaches of the watershed before moving into the Verde.

The vets headed to a private homeowners association on Oak Creek with a particularly heavy giant reed. They worked for weeks along Oak Creek, removing each stalk and treating it with herbicide, allowing the herbicide to be pulled into the root ball and letting stalks to die, while holding the root ball in place, for better erosion control. The crew removed over 10,000 stalks from the creek bank.

The CREC crew headed to Page Springs Hatchery, managed by Arizona Game and Fish. The hatchery had a large infestation of Russian olive and tree of heaven. The olive trees hugged the bank below the Page Springs bridge and worked their way onto private property below.

The CREC crew removed over 18,000 trees of heaven and Russian olive trees on the property.

According to Jones, the crews took advantage of the work that Yavapai County was doing along this stretch of Page Springs Road.

Yavapai County was removing a giant sycamore rubbing against the bridge that crosses over the creek and had brought out a chipper, and closed the road, which allowed the crews to work along the private properties on Page Springs Road.

"This was a great sharing of resources, since the county crew usually cuts the tree of heaven on this stretch but doesn't ever treat it so it simply comes back stronger the next year. Hopefully by combining resources the regrowth of these trees will be significantly reduced," Jones states.

The crews removed more than 65,000 plants from the watershed. They worked on 25 private properties, in the Prescott and Coconino national forests, on Game and Fish Department and Arizona State Parks properties, and on property owned by the city of Cottonwood.

"This work came with numerous challenges and great successes. The crew members learned the importance of the riparian area," Jones said.

Property owners along the Verde River or its tributaries, especially along Oak Creek, who want to become a VWRC participating landowner, Laura Jones, community outreach coordinator at 451-6860.

According to Jones, one of the most important guiding principles of VWRC is to ensure a coordination of work between private land owners and public land managers.

The Friends consists of more than 100 private land owners and numerous public and private agencies, all committed to improving the riparian corridor by the removing of invasive tamarisk and salt cedar, Russian olive, giant reed and tree of heaven.

The Verde River, one of Arizona's last free-flowing rivers, flows through 36 miles of lush habitat and sustains a large regional wildlife population in the Verde Valley.

Kellie Shelton can be reached at 282-7795, ext. 125, or email

Copyright 2013 Cottonwood Journal Extra, Cottonwood, Arizona. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: May 8, 2013

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