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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.


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



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