Weed and Pest succeeds with salt cedar on Cottonwood Creek
Thermopolis – The Hot Spring County Weed and Pest Resource Tour on July 14 showcased the success of the agency in nearly eliminating salt cedar from the Cottonwood Creek watershed over the past six years.
Marvin Andreen, former supervisor of the Hot Springs County Weed and Pest, said the Watershed Improvement District (WID) was formed in 2005, and he explained that a group of ranchers and agency leaders formed the WID after touring the Cottonwood Creek/Grass Creek Coordinated Resource Management area and noticing a problem with the prevalence of salt cedar.
“When we first started, there were between 700 and 900 acres of salt cedar on between 50 and 60 miles of Cottonwood Creek,” said Andreen. “I worked with the NRCS and WID to put together a grant through the Wildlife Trust Fund.”
The grant started as a five- to 10-year plan to remove all salt cedar in the drainage, but it bloomed quickly.
Hot Springs County Weed and Pest Supervisor Bob Cunningham said, “The goal behind this project is to make the land look like it did in the past, and to get the native grasses re-established.”
“Right now, virtually all the salt cedar has been taken off Cottonwood. We’re still working on a couple of branches and tributaries,” said Andreen.
Amy Anderson, Habitat Extension Biologist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Natural Resources Conservation Service, added that in three years the project’s partners did 1,203 acres of salt cedar removal.
“It has been a huge partnership,” continued Anderson. “We’ve built partnerships between agencies and landowners and managed to work really well together to accomplish this project.”
Following the initial mechanical removal of salt cedar and Russian olive, chemical treatments were applied by the Hot Springs County Weed and Pest to more completely eradicate the invasive species, and to make an effort to eliminate other noxious weeds, such as white top and Russian knapweed.
The benefits of the removal of salt cedar and Russian olive along Cottonwood Creek are multi-fold and involve forage, livestock and water supply. After salt cedar and Russian olive were removed, small stand of cottonwood trees began appearing through area, and a project to revive the cottonwood population began.
“We didn’t really even know these cottonwoods were here,” said Anderson, referencing a stand of trees at Sand Draw Junction. “We’re hoping the cottonwoods will begin to reseed themselves, and we’re doing some plantings to get the seed source replaced.”
“The cottonwood project started in 2008. Since we started, this project has taken off in a big way,” said Anderson. “We’re working on Cottonwood, the Shoshone River, parts of Owl Creek and the Big Horn, Gooseberry, the Greybull River and Shell Creek.”
BLM Invasive Species Coordinator CJ Grimes said, “If you have a dense patch of salt cedar already here, you won’t get establishment of cottonwood, even if all other conditions are perfect.”
The cottonwood project looks at getting rid of noxious weeds and establishing stands of cottonwood trees along the creek.
Additionally, with the removal of salt cedar and noxious weeds, native grasses have begun to grow again.
Wyoming Department of Agriculture Natural Resources and Policy Division Eastern Wyoming Program Coordinator Larry Bentley said, “A few years ago, the salt cedar was so thick that you couldn’t ride or walk through it anywhere, except where cows had been. You have to imagine that it was basically almost a monoculture on the creek bottoms from bank to bank.”
After the removal of salt cedar and Russian olive, wildlife populations also began to rebound.
“There has been an increase in the number of migratory birds and native birds moving back into the area,” said Bentley. “On the Shoshone River, the second day we started our project 35 wild turkeys moved in that hadn’t been there before. There is a great benefit to the wildlife.”
Anderson added, “A decrease in wildlife occurs when you seen an increase in Russian olive, because access become difficult for migratory birds. You also see an extreme depression in the number of insects in stands, so the birds stay away.”
Russian olive seeds provide a good food source for wildlife, but the density of the cover and formation of a monoculture – or single species of plant in the area – is not good for livestock or wildlife, explained Anderson.
“We are pushing this to improve the riparian systems,” said Anderson. “These greener areas attract wildlife.”
Grimes commented, “We are trying to eliminate and manage the invasive species that compromise the habitat and encourage the native species that the wildlife are more accustomed to.”
A high prevalence of salt cedar and Russian olive in a watershed is also detrimental to the water supply and availability.
“Each plant takes 15 to 20 gallons of water a day out of the system. It doesn’t take long to dry up a creek when you have 50 miles of salt cedar,” said Bentley.
Anderson added, “Everyone is excited to be able to access their creek bottom. It is important for grazing and wildlife access.”
Regardless of the current successes of the project, both Andreen and Cunningham agree that the project doesn’t end here.
“This isn’t a one-and-done type of project,” said Andreen. “It’s a long-term project with a lot of management issues that will have to take place, but I really think we have things going in the right direction with a bang.”
“Hopefully in the next three or four years it will be manageable enough that the landowner can maintain it at a low cost with less intense labor,” said Cunningham.
Saige Albert is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.