Ecological restoration occurs yearlong on Lower Salt River

There is a long-term ecological restoration project on the Lower Salt River of the Tonto National Forest’s Mesa Ranger District.

Taking place 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, according to a press release, by removing exotic plant species and planting more than 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 collaborate on the project funded from the National Forest Foundation, according to the release.

“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,” Justin Eddinger, project manager, said in a prepared statement.

The first phase is to remove 50 acres of tamarisk/salt cedar (Tamarix chinensis), 20 acres of giant reed grass (Arundo donax) and the application of herbicides to stump cuts, the release noted.

After removing exotic species, treated areas will be re-vegetated with native tree species such as cottonwood, willow and mesquite. Also, seeding of native pollinator promoting shrubs and forbs will occur.

Near the Lower Salt River, the presence of invasive, non-native species is threatening native plant species, limiting natural regeneration, reducing biodiversity and habitat for wildlife and increasing susceptibility to wildfire, described the release.

By removing exotic plant species and restoring native plant communities, the release said the project potentially improves water quality and quantity, increases native plant regeneration, decreases the risk of wildfire and enhance habitat for endangered species including southwestern willow flycatcher and the yellow-billed cuckoo that historically thrived in this region.

Project benefits include improving wetland habitat conditions, providing opportunities for local school students to participate in planting trees, presenting areas for environmental science projects, and creating watchable wildlife areas for bird watchers and citizen scientists.

This riparian improvement project is said to meet 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.

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