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On March 28, 2013, park staff and volunteers will begin a project to improve plant diversity and camping conditions along the rivers in Canyonlands. Crews will be cutting dead tamarisk and creating fire breaks around stands of native vegetation. Crews will also clear campsites along the banks and create paths for hikers and wildlife.
Crews will be working and camping at the following locations:
March 28 to April 3: Indian Creek (Mile 16.5, Colorado River)
April 21 to 27: The Confluence
May 8 to 15: Upper Spanish Bottom and Lower Red Lake
Tamarisk (Tamarix chinensis), also known as salt cedar, is an invasive shrub found throughout the southwest. Along rivers, tamarisk forms dense stands that are often impenetrable to campers, hikers, mule deer and bighorn sheep. Few plants can germinate in the dark, tangled undergrowth of mature tamarisk. This plant also siphons water and traps sediment, narrowing river channels and reducing habitat for endangered fish.
Because it grows quickly and produces abundant seeds, tamarisk is difficult to control or eradicate: traditional methods like cutting and herbicides often fall short. In 2001, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved a non-traditional method: the release of a beetle (Diorhabda elongata) that feeds exclusively on tamarisk leaves. Without leaves, a plant can't feed itself and will eventually die. The State of Utah released the first beetles near Moab in 2004. The beetles quickly spread up and down the Colorado River and into Canyonlands.
After the beetles have done their work, the highly flammable tamarisk remains a threat. Fire breaks will protect campers as well as native vegetation like cottonwoods, box elders and willows.