The Rio Grande bosque is one of New Mexico's most beloved natural treasures. Running through the heart of the Albuquerque metropolitan area, this riverside cottonwood forest provides a place for recreation and a quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding city.
But the majestic cottonwoods that shade urban refugees and shelter wildlife are in trouble. They, and other indigenous trees such as native willows and New Mexico olive, are threatened by competition from invasive non-native plants including salt cedar and Russian olive. These non-native phreatophytes (plants adapted to drawing water from the shallow water table) aggressively colonize the river banks and spread into the riparian forest, forming dense thickets that consume large quantities of shallow groundwater, alter wildlife habitat, and create a wildfire hazard in the bosque.
Ciudad is one of eight Soil and Water Conservation Districts taking part in the Greater Rio Grande Watershed Alliance, a program that has received state as well as federal funding to remove salt cedar, Russian olives and other invasive phreatophyte species from the bosque with the objective of reducing their drain on available water, concurrently improving the health of the riparian area and reducing the risk of wildfire.
Some of the phreatophyte control projects that Ciudad has completed include: Willow Creek in Rio Rancho, Rio Grande Nature Center, Jardines del Bosque at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, and approximately 60 acres in the area north of I-40 affected by the 2003 Atrisco Complex fire. At the Willow Creek site, planting of native vegetation utilized innovative planting techniques that require minimal to no maintenance to be successful.
For these projects within our District, herbicides were applied to the unwelcome phreatophytes; when applied correctly the herbicide is carried down into the roots to kill the tree preventing re-sprouting the next season. Monitoring and follow-up treatment of secondary growth are integral parts of the program. Ciudad will provide technical assistance to participating landowners who wish to do additional site restoration.
The SWCDs are working cooperatively with other land management entities to expand phreatophyte removal projects, with a common goal of continuous management along the entire stretch of the river. Ciudad’s Board of Supervisors envisions a future where our children can enjoy life in a healthy watershed, with the Rio Grande’s restored cottonwood bosque being its crown jewel.