Project to eradicate Russian olives
It's a war against the Russian Olives in the county. A bobcat equipped with a special head is ripping and shredding the Russian olives to pieces. Emery County Weed and Mosquito department director James Nielsen is excited about the project. The county has been involved in several projects to help with the eradication of Russian olives from Emery County. The goal is the total removal of Russian olives from Emery County's waterways.
The Russian olives aren't as enthused about the project as Nielsen. Russian olives are very hard to kill. If you spray the tree and miss even a tiny branch of the tree, the tree won't die.
Nielsen said, "The county weed department and other agencies have been involved in the removal of Russian olives from Highway 24, the road to Hanksville all the way up to Fuller Bottom a distance of 120 river miles. The current project extends from Fuller Bottom up to private land and must be completed by June 30. A $35,000 grant has been received to assist in this phase.
"The next phase of the project will begin on the private land adjacent to our waterway. Each drainage will have a subcommittee to the county weed board to identify potential projects. Projects will be prioritized and funding from a Utah Department of Agriculture and food grant will be used to assist in this next phase of removal. This phase of the removal will begin on July 1, 2013.
"It is being planned to put Russian olives on the county noxious weed list and it is also possible that they could be put on the state noxious weed list as well.
"To determine the best way to get rid of the Russian olives a test plot is being utilized by the bridge just south of Castle Dale. This control plot will utilize five methods of killing the Russian olives to demonstrate what works the best and which method will be the best fit for individual landowners.
"The control plot contains a large number of Russian olives and also some tamarisk which will be shredded as well. The beetles have really done a great job on the tamarisk. The leaves never developed and there is a brown out without any recharging of nutrients to the roots. Also loss of water through transpiration is totally stopped. This process will eventually weaken the plant and in three or four years the plant will die. The beetles have worked their way up the San Rafael and it's a total brown out at Fuller's Bottom. We really need to take out the tamarisk and the Russian olive so the native species will have a chance for regrowth. The native species are still there, they are just being crowded out and need a chance to come back. These two species, the tamarisk and the Russian olive were planted here, and they've spread. At one time it was thought they were good for wildlife and erosion control. They didn't know at that time they would crowd out the native plants," said Nielsen.
Dennis Worwood, Utah State Extension agent is also involved with the project. He said the Russian olives have done so well here because they love salty soils and drought doesn't bother them. "Emery County is a good spot for Russian olives. A tamarisk doesn't necessarily use more water than a willow, but they utilize that water better and grow a lot taller with the same amount of water. In a study of trees in the intermountain west, the tamarisk was the third most common tree with the Russian olive coming in fourth. These trees grow so thick the livestock and wildlife can't get between them. The birds move the seeds of the Russian olives and they've really spread. Russian olives are shade tolerant, they'll grow in shade they don't care, but most native plants can't grow in shade," said Worwood.
Nielsen said, "The grasses and willows are beginning to come back along the San Rafael."
Getting rid of Russian olives is hard work. You can cut them down with chain saws and then treat the stumps and that works pretty good. It's very labor intensive work. On this test spot the machines are shredding the trees, the machine reaches up and then the arm comes down upon the tree and shreds it. Another treatment is the basal bark where the herbicide is mixed with a methylated oil, like a cooking oil and is applied to the trunk of the smaller trees and it kills the tree, this works well. This process works best on the smaller trees. There will be resprouting with any of these methods and any regrowth will be treated.
Another method is to spray the leaves on the trees with herbicide. Another method which will be used is uprooting the entire tree with a backhoe. Even when trees are jerked out, regrowth will still occur and it will be treated with chemical.
Russian olives and tamarisk change natural stream channels and obstruct normal overflowing of the banks into the flood plain. They will create cutting and deep stream channels. These plants hold the water in the channel. They change the riparian area. The willows can lay over and allow the flood waters to wash over them, but not the tamarisk and the Russian olive.
Nielsen pointed out the war against the Russian olive is a cooperative project with many entities involved. The forest service provided the machines that shredded the trees on the test plot.
Work to eliminate the Russian olives has been ongoing in the county since the 1980s. The county has provided the chemical to local landowners who want to spray the trees on their property.
The current grant money will allow the further removal of Russian olives from Highway 24 downstream to the river's confluence with the Green, approximately 39 miles. Removal will also take place from Fuller Bottom upstream to the first agricultural lands above the confluence of Ferron, Huntington and Cottonwood Creeks.