Forest Service Begins Local Land Repair

Ecological restoration occurring along the Lower Salt River

A long-term ecological restoration project is happening on the Lower Salt River of the Tonto National Forest’s Mesa Ranger District in the area of the 2017 Cactus Fire.

The Lower Salt River Restoration project will restore 70 acres of riparian habitat along an 11-mile stretch of the river by removing exotic plant species and planting over 500,000 native plants. The Northern Arizona University School of Forestry, employees of the Tonto National Forest and Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management are collaborating on the project made possible through funding from the National Forest Foundation.

The first phase is the removal of 50 acres of tamarisk/salt cedar (Tamarix chinensis), 20 acres of giant reed grass (Arundo donax) and the application of herbicides to stump cuts. Following the removal of exotic species, treated areas will be re-vegetated with native tree species such as cottonwood, willow and mesquite. In addition, seeding of native pollinator promoting shrubs and forbs will take place.

One of the goals of the restoration project is to provide opportunities for the public to participate in the planting of trees. On Saturday, Dec. 8 the National Forest Foundation (NFF) hosted a tree planting event for nearly 200 Intel employees and family member volunteers to assist with the revegetation in the project area.

Near the Lower Salt River, the presence of invasive, non-native species is threatening native plant species, limiting natural regeneration, reducing overall biodiversity and habitat for wildlife and increasing susceptibility to wildfire. By removing exotic plant species and restoring native plant communities, this project has the potential to improve water quality and quantity, increase native plant regeneration, decrease the risk of wildfire and enhance habitat for endangered species such as the southwestern willow flycatcher and the yellow-billed cuckoo that historically thrived in this region.

Project Manager Justin Eddinger comments, “The project will continue through December 2019 and activities will involve novel techniques that have high potential to be expanded for use along other areas of the river and other invaded waterways throughout the Southwestern United States.”

Some of the benefits from this project include improving wetland habitat conditions, providing opportunities for local school district students to participate in the planting of trees, presenting valuable areas for environmental science projects, and creating watchable wildlife areas for bird watchers and citizen scientists. This riparian improvement project meets the Southwestern Region’s focus on wetland habitat restoration and underscores the Tonto National Forest’s commitment to restoring native species’ regenerative processes along the Salt River.

Photo above: Nearly 200 Intel employees and family members volunteer to assist with the revegetation Dec. 8. US Forest Service photo

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