Oldest county employee James Nielsen retires from weed and mosquito department; last project Russian olive removal
James Nielsen recently retired from the Emery County Weed and Mosquito Department. He oversaw the control of noxious weeds and the mosquito control in the county each summer.
One big project he oversaw before his retirement was the removal of several miles of Russian olive trees from the county's ditch banks, canals and along the San Rafael river.
The Russian olive removal project also attracted the attention of the County Seat television program with Chad Booth.
The Department of Agriculture provided a grant of $70,000 to help with the removal and Nielsen and his crew were able to leverage the money with funds they had and donations of equipment by area farmers to extend what they were able to accomplish with the money. A year ago a grant of $35,000 was received for Russian olive removal and spent on the San Rafael River from Fuller Bottoms to the confluence with Ferron Creek.
The next phase of the project was to eliminate the seed source by controlling it on private lands along the main channel of Huntington, Cottonwood, Ferron and Muddy Creeks.
Treatment methods have included: tree grinder; spraying of re-growth, cutting trees and treating stumps; track hoe to uproot trees, stack them and burn them; basal bark spray and foliar spray.
The private land owners provided access to their property and assisted in the initial treatment. The land owners were also responsible to clean-up and burn the slash piles and treat any regrowth of the Russian olive trees.
The Russian olive is one of the worst invasive species along waterways. It readily invades stream beds and forms thick formations which crush out native species. These thick growths are hard for wildlife and cattle to negotiate so they are displaced. Russian olives use a lot of water. The trees alter the natural stream beds and flood plains. This causes deep erosion of river beds and stream banks.
Commissioners James Nelson and Jeff Horrocks toured some of the treatment areas with Nielsen and Mike Ralphs, one of the property owners where treatments took place. The television show filmed along the project to show how the area is much improved.
It is believed the Russian olives were introduced into the west originally to be used as feed for deer, birds, and small animals and to prevent erosion.
Nielsen said when he was in grade school and in the 4-H, "I helped plant bare root Russian olive trees that were given out by the forest ranger in Ferron. He gave us bundles of 50 to plant. Bears, deer, squirrels, pheasants, turkeys, magpies, crows, robins and almost all birds eat Russian olives. Most do not digest or dissolve the pit. They just scatter the pits or seeds. On the South Salt Wash, a lone 30 year old Russian olive tree was found. When the trees were first brought in from Russia they said they were good for wildlife, but did not know that the trees were a take over type tree that crowded out the native vegetation."
The oldest Russian olive tree that Nielsen found by dating the tree rings was found on the Fish and Game Farm on Huntington Creek.
In Emery County along the creeks the Russian olive Trees are so thick that it is difficult to walk through them. The Russian olive trees both young and old have very sharp-pronged stickers that are two to three inches long. The smell of the Russian olive tree blossoms are very pleasant in the spring to some people. A Russian olive tree can easily shed thousands of small marble sized green seeds resembling an olive each year. Russian Olive seeds are carried by the birds, animals and water to other locations for propagation. These trees can reproduce from the olive seed or from suckers growing up from the roots. These trees can grow in barren and nutrient-poor locations and take over the moist soil along stream banks stopping trees like the cottonwood from putting up new growth.
Nielsen said, "Our intent is to remove the Russian olives off of the main streams in Emery County's flood plain. That will stop the seeds from going on down the San Rafael River where they could sprout and grow anew. We have removed Russian olives from Fuller Bottoms down to the road that goes to Hanksville. Other agencies are working on Russian olives on the San Rafael River in the Hatt Ranch area. We now have 120 miles of river that is Russian olive free. This summer we plan to go down the San Rafael River from the road that goes to Hanksville to the confluence with the Green River and work there with our regular summer crew. Last year we hired a group from the Castle Country Youth Corp. out of Monticello. They did a section on the Ferron Creek for us. They used chain saws to cut the trees and used chemicals to treat the stumps."
The goal is to remove the Russian olives on all of the main streams in the flood plain that flows into the San Rafael River.
Many more cottonwood trees are visible after the Russian olive trees have been removed.
In the history of Emery County it is reported when the Gunnison survey crew came through the area they mentioned how the valley, along the creek we call Cottonwood Creek, opened up into big meadows full of cottonwoods. Today the creek would have to be named Russian olive creek. The Russian olive trees have choked out a lot of native vegetation and all but a few cottonwood trees.
The Russian Olive tree has done untold damage to the county and it will take hundreds of thousands of dollars to get rid of them.
Emery County recognized James Nielsen for his years of service to the county at the commission meeting before he retired. They presented him with a plaque of appreciation.
Phil Fauver contributed to this article