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Kill a Plant to Save the West

Anyone who runs rivers in the western US cannot help but to know about TAMARISK. They're pretty, feathery shrubs that crowd the riverbanks and flower in pink. In fact they are introduced from Asia. Like kudzu they were planted to prevent erosion but then took off. We call them "tammies"--or some call them "toiletwood" because they burn like shit and smell like piss. River runners aren't shy about sculpting the tammies to suit their camping needs.

This article tries to put an optimistic face on the tammie invasion, but far as I know there is no stopping this plant. Groups of people working VERY hard can eradicate it from small areas (Marijka can attest) but eliminating it from the entire west is impossible....or seems that way. They produce gadzillions of seeds that fly in the wind, and have brutally long taproots once established. The one suggestion that I have heard that could possibly work: genetically modify the plant such that seeds are not generated, or are not fertile.

People get all upset about genetic modification of food (want fish genes in your corn?) but I think it is the only technology we have that has a chance of changing the direction of this ecosystem-wide foreign plant invasion.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 28th, 2007 11:10 pm (UTC)
Genetic modification wouldn't change the plant population that's already there and producing fertile seeds, would it? I don't see how planting more tams that are modified would help the situation. Elaborate?
Jan. 30th, 2007 08:28 pm (UTC)
Pollenating a tam with GM pollen could cause it to produce non-viable seeds. You would need to combine the effort to pollenate over several seasons with the uprooting and general destruction of all viable plants.
Jan. 28th, 2007 11:13 pm (UTC)
The beetle idea is interesting. I guess they only eat tamarisk (I HOPE they only eat tamarisk)...
Jan. 30th, 2007 08:18 pm (UTC)
You never know what will happen when you introduce another non-native species. The rabbit infestation of Australia was a surprise. The brown tree snakes of Guam aren't supposed to be there, but the population is out of hand. I don't like introducing species to control introduced species. Very messy. But the trend is unstoppable. Humans have already completely reorganized the species on this planet and we're not done yet!
Jan. 29th, 2007 11:58 pm (UTC)
tenacious weeds
Beetles released at Echo Park in Dinosaur N.M. have so far chowed down on tammies since May of last year. These beetles (Diorhabda elongata deserticola) have been tested in sites throughout the west for over 20 years. So far, so good. Excellent results, in fact, in sites in Lovelock, NV, and another I can't remember in Cataract Canyon. Of course, the wisdom of introducing one non-native species to control another can be a double edged sword. Only time will tell, and the beetles are extremely picky about where they will live, so they might not make it in Grand Canyon and other areas at all.
Tammies will never be exterminated completely, but it can be controlled, sometimes with great results and less labor than you'd think. And boy does it feel good to yank them out of the ground.
Jan. 30th, 2007 08:02 pm (UTC)
Where do the beetles come from? Where do they flourish? This should be interesting...
Jan. 30th, 2007 11:35 pm (UTC)
Home sweet home is China
The beetles in Dino are from Fukang, China. In fact, most of the released beetles throughout the West are from Fukang. This is because these little guys are most suited to the environments in the west. The Latitude lines here are similar to their home in China, and it turns out that this is very important to the life cycle of the beetles- they need at least 14 hours of daylight in order to reproduce. (Hence the problem with areas farther south than Moab) They love the cold, they require 3-4 inches of tammy duff to continue their life cycle, they eat the most when they are pupa (sp?), and they hang out in the duff in the winter. The duff keeps them warm. Problem is, they're still down there on the ground when the rivers flood, which could drown them. We can only wait and see if they make it off the ground before the Yampa floods. So far birds aren't taking much of a toll on them, it's the ants, rather, that are chowing down on the beetles at an alarming rate. I spoke with my old boss in Dino, and she says they are getting another 80,000 beetles to be released in Lodore this summer, very exciting!! If you want more good info on the beetles and also to see photos of other release sites, check out the Tamarisk Coalition website. They work closely with the insecterary that breeds and distributes the beetles in Grand Junction, they also head alot of volunteer removal projects in the GJ area. And, the burning question on everyone's mind: So far the beetles have decimated entire acres of tammies, reach the edge of the thicket, fly around until they find another tammie thicket, and resume eating. If they don't find another tammie, they starve. They appear to be hardwired to tammie only, which is lucky, because there's only one plant in the US that is anything close to the Tamarisk family or genus, and it doesn't grow out west. So, maybe 1 million plus acres of tammy will meet their match. Cross your fingers... Another note of interest, most of the tammies in Dino last summer were being killed off by an introduced leaf hopper, not the beetles. Where did the leaf hopper come from? What else does it eat? All good questions that we don't know yet.
Jan. 31st, 2007 02:42 am (UTC)
Re: Home sweet home is China
Wow, thanks for filling me in! I'm going surfing now:
Tamarisk Coalition
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )



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