Here come the tamarisk munchers
Vail CO, Colorado
GRAND JUNCTION ” Beetles are chewing up tamarisk trees at some sites near Moab, Utah, “like crazy,” said Dan Bean, who oversees a Colorado project in which the bugs will be unleashed to eat the so-called “noxious weeds.”
The tamarisk has spread up the Colorado River all the way to Eagle County. The beetles may be chowing down in Grand Junction later this year.
Originally from Asia, tamarisk trees have spread throughout the Southwest, and are notorious for sucking up huge amounts of water and crowding out native species, such as cottonwood and willow trees.
“(Colorado) currently loses to tamarisk trees the equivalent of 75 percent of what the Denver Water Board uses each year. Denver provides water to more than a million people,” said Tim Carlson, executive director of the Tamarisk Coalition ” a local nonprofit working to restore riparian lands.
U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologists went to northwestern China to retrieve the tamarisk leaf-eating beetles. In experimental release sites in Pueblo, Nevada and Utah, researchers are finding the insects are doing a good job of defoliating the tamarisk.
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The Tamarisk Coalition hopes to release beetles this year, at sites in Fruita and in Grand Junction along the Colorado and Gunnison rivers. Bean said he’s confident that once released, the beetles will go after only tamarisk ” and not agricultural trees.
Ten years of studying the beetle in quarantined facilities found that beetles did not eat agricultural crops.
Harry Talbott of Talbott Farms believes the beetle will actually benefit farmers.
“They’re very host-specific,” Talbott said. “They either eat the tamarisks or die. They’ll be eating plants that compete for the water supply. So they’ll be a huge benefit to us, by getting rid of the tamarisks.”
Tamarisk has spread to hundreds of thousands of acres in arid and semi-arid western states. Millions of dollars have been spent to manage the species to save water, reduce fire hazard, improve wildlife habitat, and restore native vegetation.
In Eagle County, groups have cleared the weeds from stretches of the Colorado and Eagle rivers.