Sleep In The Dirt

Floating the Colorado with the Tamarisk Coalition

Essays From the Field

On a warm, bluebird summer day in late June I hopped aboard one of two rafts on the boat ramp in Loma, CO — the put-in for the Ruby-Horsethief Canyons’ float. The trip was organized by The Tamarisk Coalition, and my fellow floaters for the day included their staff members, board members, and different funding partners from around the state of Colorado. We were invited to the river that day to learn more about the invasive plant species stressing our river systems, see firsthand what some of their groundwork is accomplishing along the Colorado River, and to better understand why this riparian habitat restoration is important, and why we should all care.

A little history: The Tamarisk is a small-ish tree that grows in dense – at times impenetrable – thickets. The Tamarisk was first introduced to the United States to help with erosion control after The Dust Bowl, and boy were they good at it. So good that they are now responsible for the narrowing and channeling of streams and rivers; not allowing for natural erosion during flooding which helps to disperse ground materials and refresh ecosystems. These resilient little trees are also thirsty; gulping enough water that cottonwoods, willows, and other native plant species are left prone to disease and poor health due to lack of moisture. The density of the growth makes it hard for other plants to grow, makes it difficult for wildlife to access riverbanks, and all around makes removal and mitigation a real pain in the ass; costly, logistically challenging, and a lot to manage.

Which brings me back to The Tamarisk Coalition. This organization is taking the Tamarisk head on (and other invasive species such as the Knapweed, Russian Olive, and tree-of-heaven) in an effort to restore the vitality of our riparian habitats. From hands-on groundwork removal, to the management of the Tamarisk Beetles, it’s a daunting task, but one they are tackling.

Their work is evident on the Ruby-Horsethief portion of the Colorado River where an abundance of wildlife (such as bighorn sheep) were seen accessing the riverbanks. I have floated this stretch many times in the last decade and never remember seeing so many animals on the river banks! Campsites were clear of overgrown plant life and shady cottonwoods were growing strongly. The work of the Tamarisk Beetle was evident by the browning leaves on many large portions of the Tamarisk-dominated banks.

Big Agnes is a proud supporter of the Tamarisk Coalition and the work they are doing. On a personal level, we all benefit from healthy rivers and ecosystems, and as good stewards of the land, it’s our job to support efforts that keep native species thriving. I encourage you to visit their website, educate yourself on the impact of these invasive species, and find out how you can support the efforts. Take me to the river!

 

Katie Hughes serves as current Marketing Manager, soon to be part-time E-Comm Director, and voted best to lie around on the job.

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