While the Cactus Fire was a human caused wildfire, the presence of invasive plant species drastically altered the fire’s behavior and severity. Following the fire, tamarisk or salt cedar (Tamarix chinensis), a fire adapted species was the first plant to re-emerge within the burn scar. Other non-native plants such as giant reed (Arundo donax) and stinknet (Oncosiphon piluliferum) have also taken advantage of the disturbance, quickly forming large populations within the fire footprint. Non-native plant species can quickly out compete native plants for resources such as sun, water, and nutrients threatening native biotic communities. Through a variety of treatment methods, the LSRRP aims to reduce the presence of these and other invasive plant species along the Lower Salt River. This type of work requires a continued effort. As new ground is covered in each phase of the project, all areas covered in previous phases are retreated as well. This repeated “maintenance” will help to ensure successful removal and/or control of invasive plant populations.
This objective is achieved in two ways that can be described as active and passive restoration. Both methods rely on an initial strategy of treating and removing invasive plant populations. Active restoration then comes in the way of planting thousands of native riparian tree species. Genetic material is collected from the Lower Salt River and regions in similar elevation, with slightly warmer climates, with the goal of producing trees adapted to the warming temperatures associated with climate change. These trees are then grown in a Northern Arizona University greenhouse for up to a year before finding their way back to the Lower Salt River. Passive restoration relies on the natural recruitment of native plant species. By removing the constant competition of invasive plants, native species begin to recolonize areas on their own. Together these methods are helping to conserve riparian habitat critical to the Southwest.
Did you know the Lower Salt River houses nearly one third of all Bald Eagle nesting sites in the state of Arizona? Did you know the river in your backyard is designated by Audubon Society as an Important Bird Area (IBA)? Not only are riparian habitats critical for birds, they are important to all wildlife in the arid Southwest. Riparian areas are the interface between land and a river or stream. In the desert, these areas differ drastically from surrounding uplands and host a wide variety of biodiversity. The LSRRP aims to improve riparian habitat by sustaining and expanding two essential vegetation communities, the mesquite bosque and the cottonwood-willow gallery forest.
As we mentioned above, invasive plant populations drastically altered the behavior of the Cactus Fire. Large dense stands of non-native plant species allowed the fire to carry faster and burn at a greater severity than what would be typically expected on a desert riparian landscape. These types of fires threaten native biotic communities that did not evolve with regularly occurring wildfire. In addition to this ecological harm, the Cactus Fire posed a significant public safety threat to the local community. The LSRRP aims to mitigate the risk of wildfire by reducing fuel loads and limiting the presence and connectivity of invasive plant populations.
In addition to the ecological benefits, the LSRRP aims to educate and involve the local community through partnership opportunities, environmental education events for K-12 students, and sustained community involvement in monitoring and maintaining restoration activities. The success and rapid progress of the project is the result of collaboration among federal and state agencies, universities, non-profit organizations, local corporations, and community members. We care deeply for this piece of land and hope to inspire and educate others on how they can help to conserve their public lands. To learn more about our Educational Outreach program click the button below.