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Public needed for river invasive plant cleanup

The Camp Verde Journal of Camp Verde, Arizona

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In the early 19th century, someone thought the tamarisk, or salt-cedar, would look nice as a shrub and brought the plant, native to the Middle East, to North America.

During the dust bowl of the 1930s, the tree was deliberately planted by the millions to fight erosion. The giant reed plant, a native of Asia, made its way to Europe and Africa over the years before it was brought to California.

Bringing these plants here may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but they have since spread far and wide over the years, creating problems for native species wherever they go.

This weekend, the U.S. Forest Service is organizing a cleanup in conjunction with the Friends of the Verde River Greenway to help fight back against these invading plants and reclaim part of the natural ecosystem.

It's an uphill battle, admits Marsha Foutz, with the Verde River Greenway group.

"We haven't made a dent," Foutz said of the cleanups, organized every couple of months by the group for the past few years.

But it's worth it to keep up the struggle, Foutz said, since there's still a river to save.

She points to the Little Colorado and San Juan rivers as examples where invasive species have all but destroyed the original ecosystem.

"It's disgusting," Foutz said.

There are other dangers, too, Foutz said. Giant reeds can be extremely flammable, causing a spark to turn into a raging inferno. It doesn't help that the plant grows four inches a day. The plants are notorious water-soakers, Foutz said, keeping other plants from getting a life-giving drink.

The tamarisk plants provide another threat to the environment, said Chip Norton, another volunteer with the group. The plants are very salty, Norton said. The salt gets into the soil and makes it nearly impossible for native species to grow.

"What was already there before [the invasive species] was sorted out after hundreds of thousands of years," Norton said. "We may not be qualified, but we're going in to remodel."

The public is encouraged to show up for the cleanup, this Saturday in the Beasley Flat area of Verde River.

Norton said the work can be fairly physical, but people can work at their own pace and do what they can.

Chainsaws will take out the intruding plants, and volunteers will collect the leftovers and put them in a pile for collection. A herbicide is also sprayed in the area to try and keep stem the march of the invasives.

The work was a blessing for Foutz; after working for more than two decades to protect the river, she said it felt good to actually do something immediately tangible.

While sitting in meetings and the political aspects of conservation are important, Foutz said there's nothing quite like going out and getting your hands dirty.

"When I cut down my first tamerisks, I felt like I was out there doing something," Foutz said.

The cleanup is scheduled for 8 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 23, at the Beasley Flat recreation area on the Verde River. To get there, turn onto Salt Mine Road off State Route 260 in Camp Verde. Follow it to the end, following the pavement through a hard left turn. The road turns to dirt through a small residential area; keep going to reach the staging area at the very end of the road.

For more information, e-mail Norton at or Coconino National Forest Ranger Dexter Allen at dexter

Copyright 2010 The Camp Verde Journal, Camp Verde, 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: January 20, 2010

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