End of successful season removing invasive plants from Verde River corridor

It was a year’s labor for the Friends of Verde River Greenway to remove invasive vegetation from the riparian corridor.

It was a year’s labor for the Friends of Verde River Greenway to remove invasive vegetation from the riparian corridor.

Friends of Verde River Greenway (FVRG) and the Verde Watershed Restoration Coalition (VWRC) have successfully completed their first treatment season removing invasive vegetation along the riparian corridor of the Verde River and its tributaries.

FVRG is the lead non-profit of VWRC which is a coalition that consists of over 100 private land owners and numerous public and private agencies such as the Prescott and Coconino Nation Forest, The Nature Conservancy, AZ Fish and Wildlife, The Nation Park Service, Verde Valley Land Preservation, the City of Cottonwood, Arizona State Parks and The Tamarisk Coalition, all committed to improving the riparian corridor of the Verde Watershed through the removal of invasive plant species such as Tamarisk/Salt Cedar, Russian Olive, Giant Reed/Arundo Donax and Tree of Heaven/Ailanthus.

VWRC started its on-the-ground battle against invasive plants in March 2012 with a series of demonstration projects. Crews were brought in test methods for removing invasive plants along the Verde River and its major tributaries. The projects were a great starting point for the inaugural treatment season. 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 2012, VWRC engaged two full-time crews to begin work. The first was an eight person young adult crew from the Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC). The second was a six-person Vets crew hired through The Vetraplex. Both crews completed a rigorous training program that included saw training, plant identification, risk management, herbicide applicator training and testing, and leave-no-trace practices. By mid- October the crews were equipped to go.

An ambitious treatment agenda, prioritizing the Upper Verde, West Clear Creek and Oak Creek was set. The plan was to work in the upper reaches of the watershed before moving into the main-stem of the Verde. Other considerations in this planning process included the nesting habits of the endangered Southwest Willow Fly Catcher, the logistics of additional groups doing work on public lands, and the physical limitations of removing thousands of invasive plants from some very hard to reach places.

The crews were both scheduled to work for 22 weeks through the alternating heat, rain, wind, sun and cold. Ideally, herbicide treatment occurs when the target species are going dormant or are already dormant. By the spring, the plants are ready to grow again and quickly start pouring their energy outward. Our goal was for the herbicide to be absorbed into the plants' root systems, so we knew timing would be crucial to our success.

Work began on Oct. 15. The Vets headed to Oak Creek Valley Estates, a private home owners association on Oak Creek with a particularly heavy Giant Reed/Arundo infestation. They worked for weeks along Oak Creek, painstakingly removing each Arundo stalk and treating it with herbicide. This treatment method allows the herbicide to be pulled into the root ball and for the stand of stalks to die while holding the root ball in place, for better erosion control. In total the Vets crew removed over 10,000 Arundo stalks from the creek bank.

Meanwhile, the CREC crew headed to AZ Game and Fish owned Page Springs Hatchery. The hatchery had a large infestation of Russian Olive and Tree of Heaven/Ailanthus. The Russian Olive trees hugged the bank below the Page Springs bridge and worked their way onto private property below. In total, the CREC crew removed over 18,000 of Russian Olive and Ailanthus trees on the property.

During this time, the crews took advantage of the work that Yavapai County was doing along this stretch of Page Springs Road. The County was working to remove a giant Sycamore tree that was 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. Hopeful by combining resources the regrowth of these trees will be significantly reduce.

Throughout the season the CREC crew also tackled some backcountry work in the West Clear Creek and Sycamore Canyon Wilderness. They went into these areas on eight-day spikes (work sessions), bringing with them all of the tools and supplies needed to treat the invasive plants they found. In these backcountry areas, invasive plants can be difficult to locate, a few sporadically growing over a large area. Or as they found in the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness, there are patches of plants that are over 10,000 square feet, all integrated together.

During this treatment season, 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 AZ Game and Fish Department and AZ Parks properties, and on property owned by the City of Cottonwood.

This work came with numerous challenges and great successes. The crew members shared a variety of feedback on their season end evaluation:

"Learned the importance of the riparian area."

"I now have extensive herbicide experience and mapping skills... this will surely help me get a job with an agency in the future."

"VWRC was very supportive and we had great communication."

"Great job taking on this massive project and its complex logistics."

If you are a private landowner that lives along the Verde River or its tributaries, especially along Oak Creek and want to become a VWRC participating landowner, please call Laura Jones, Community Outreach Coordinator at (928) 451-6860.

One of the most important guiding principles of VWRC is to ensure a coordination of work between private lan owners and public land managers. If the inaugural treatment season is any indication, VWRC are well on its way to effectively removing invasive plants from the Verde River Watershed.


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