Date: 9/15/20 9:33 am
From: DAVID A LEATHERMAN <daleatherman...>
Subject: [cobirds] Russian olive removal
The Russian-olive removal at Crow Valley Campground was done at the behest of the US Forest Service who is in charge of the area. These days the USFS does almost all on-the-ground work, except firefighting, through contractors. I believe the removal of the olives at Crow Valley Campground was performed by some locals out of Briggsdale. My guess as to how this all went down is that there was a pot of money in a veg management account that would have to be returned if not spent by September 30 (the end of the federal fiscal year), somebody in Greeley or Washington knew about, or ascribed to, the paradigm that R-o is evil, also knew that giving a contract to the two guys with a dog, chainsaw, magnetic sign and pick-up would give somebody brownie points for "hiring local", and it was done deal. As far as I can tell, it was a quick and dirty operation with no removal of the cut wood, no treatment of the stumps, no replacement planting of "better" species, no interpretive material on-site or explanation given to the Campground Host (in case he was asked why it was done). If somebody knows a different story about how this all happened, I am open to correction.

As stated, the paradigm amongst most CO natural resource agencies, be they federal, state, county or city, is that Russian-olive is evil and deserves eradication. This is a fairly new school of thought. Following the Dust Bowl, R-o was planted widely promoted and planted as a helpful remedy on the Great Plains. The federal Soil Conservation Service (now the NRCS) was its biggest promoter. R-o grows well in harsh places and we all know the world is getting harsher by the minute. The Colorado State Forest Service I used to work for has the last government tree nursery standing in CO and grows/sells approximately 2 million seedlings of all types a year. They only quit offering R-o in the 1990's, mostly because it was PC to do so. We all know the tree is a mixed bag, and considering only the issue of attracting birds, it is decidedly a positive. I have extolled the positive aspects of this tree for birds for many years. These efforts started out not so much as promotion of the tree but as an effort to "stand up" for it a bit, and balance the rhetoric. The knocks against it are: 1) it has potential to take over riparian areas to the exclusion of native, better trees like willow and cottonwood, and 2) it doesn't host very many insects, and, thus, doesn't support a very robust set of nesting birds. The fear of riparian area take-over has been erroneously extended to upland sites (which Crow Valley essentially is since it rarely experiences creek bed flow any more). I have only seen the total takeover and stagnation of riparian areas in a limited number of places in CO, mostly along the Arkansas e of Pueblo. In my mind, tamarisk (aka "salt-cedar") is way worse.

The primary insect R-o does have, an aphid (Capitophorus elaeagni), is very attractive to birds. The fruits are very attractive to many birds including warblers, woodpeckers, flycatchers, thrushes, waxwings, mimic thrushes, finches, sparrows and many others including even upland gamebirds and gulls. Wood ducks love them. When discovered, the 1st or 2nd State Record Brown-crested Flycatcher, Fork-tailed Flycatcher and Tropical Kingbird were in or near Russian-olives, no doubt using fruits to sustain their wayward adventures. Hey, Duane, any chance the Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher was doing the same? Thickets are used by certain marquis birds like cardinals and cuckoos as nest sites. Owls like long-ears roost/nest in R-o thickets, and I have even seen a pygmy-owl at low elevation in winter in a R-o thicket.

I am not sure what birders should do but I think the approach SeEtta mentions of at least injecting some balance into veg management planning early-on is good. The resource managers, for the most part, have not heard our point of view that the tree could be good, and they need to hear it as something to weigh when considering the final plan. My problems with every R-o "eradication" project I've witnessed are:

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Major assault on peace and quiet
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Never get them all, miss many small trees
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Never enough $ to plant, establish and maintain "better" species
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Never account for sprouting that will have the site right back where it was in 10-20 years
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Never account for recruitment by bird droppings and seeds floating in on moving water
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In net, just dumb these areas down as a bird habitat and rec experience for 10 years minimum

Dave Leatherman
Fort Collins

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