By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau: After consulting with several experts and groups, including the Arizona Farm Bureau, U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack urging them to increase the use of the salt cedar beetle in the eradication of invasive salt cedar tamarisk trees under the Salt cedar Biocontrol Program due to continuing drought conditions taking a toll on Arizona’s water system. Salt cedar is an invasive tree species along the Colorado River Basin that is reportedly capable of consuming up to 200 gallons of water a day while depositing salt onto the surrounding
Salt Cedar, also known a Tamarix, trees are big consumers of water. This non-native species is causing great damage to our eco-systems in Arizona.
According to one assessment, the Colorado River Basin could recover over 840,000 acre-feet of water per year after salt cedar eradication and re-vegetation.
“The State of Arizona – in its fourteenth consecutive year of drought – is bracing for the likelihood that Colorado River water deliveries could be curtailed by 2016,” writes Senator McCain. “I believe that aggressively eradicating salt cedar and subsequently replanting native vegetation is one water strategy we should accelerate now… One of the more successful and cost-effective means for eradicating salt cedar has been the release of the ‘salt cedar beetle’ under the [Salt cedar Biocontrol] Program. These beetles are known to weaken and destroy salt cedar trees over time and could lessen the reliance on chemicals and supplement costly labor-intensive removal.”
“As the drought in the West continues, we must look at every option to reduce water consumption,” said Joe Sigg, Government Relations Director of the Arizona Farm Bureau. “The salt cedar has been stealing water from the watershed for years and the beetle program has the potential to release nearly one million acre-feet of water per year for the good of the west. The Arizona Farm Bureau applauds the program and
Arizona Farm Bureau was also recently interviewed by the New York Times on this issue.
“Central Arizona Project (CAP) is the steward of central Arizona's Colorado River supplies,” said Pam Pickard, President of the Central Arizona Project (CAP) Board. “The health and sustainability of the Colorado River
The signed letter is here and the text of the letter is below.
Dear Secretary Vilsack and Secretary Jewell:
I’m writing regarding the federal government’s use of the salt cedar beetle in the eradication of invasive salt
Drought conditions across the western United States have disrupted agriculture production, impacted wildlife, exacerbated wildfires, and led to compulsory water-use restrictions for industry and private homeowners. The State of Arizona—in its fourteenth consecutive year of drought—is bracing for the likelihood that Colorado River water deliveries could be curtailed by 2016. Fortunately, my home state is prepared for this eventuality with its innovative system of groundwater banking. Nevertheless, the possibility of the West entering a prolonged period of mega-drought could eventually overwhelm today’s more forward-looking drought management plans.
I believe that aggressively eradicating salt cedar and subsequently replanting native vegetation is one water strategy we should accelerate now. Salt cedar is an invasive species that some claim is capable of consuming 200 gallons of water a day while depositing salt onto the surrounding
One of the more successful and cost-effective means for eradicating salt cedar has been the release of the “salt cedar beetle” under the Program. These beetles are known to weaken and destroy salt cedar trees over time and could lessen the reliance on chemicals and supplement costly labor-intensive removal. Unfortunately, beetle releases were restricted to Upper Basin states and halted after a lawsuit raised questions about potential negative impacts on the habitat of the southwestern willow flycatcher, an endangered species. As you know, the willow flycatcher is often left with little choice but to nest in salt cedar stands where native plants, like willow trees, have been killed off by salt cedar. However, some information now suggests that the willow flycatcher and other endangered species will thrive in areas where the salt cedar was removed and native trees were actively replanted—like the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area’s wetlands restoration project or the Bureau of Reclamation’s Laguna Restoration Project.
As you know, the salt cedar beetle has migrated into Arizona and some experts predict the beetle could reach the Yuma area within the decade. So, whether you expand the Saltcedar Biocontrol Program or not, it’s incumbent upon your agencies to have a plan that maximizes the benefits of the beetle’s presence. Therefore, I respectfully request the following information:
- Please provide me with an explanation for why the current restrictions on beetle releases
exist,and identify what would be required to expand releases into Arizona and other areas of the Lower Colorado River Basin either administratively or through legislation.
- Please provide a description of all federal, state, tribal and local projects that are working to eradicate salt cedar, and include their estimated costs to the federal treasury, the method of removal, their location, and estimated time to complete.
- Please provide a cost estimate for a large-scale re-vegetation plan across the Lower Colorado River Basin that assumes the anticipated migration of the beetle as well as a reinstated beetle release program.
Thank you for your attention to this request.