Tamarisk, also called Salt Cedar, is an ornamental shrubby tree introduced to North America from the deserts of the Middle East. While confined to its native habitat, tamarisk poses no threat. When allowed to grow near water, however, tamarisk's long, evasive roots, evolved to survive arid desert climates, lustily drink in every drop of water they can find.
According to Sen. Nighthorse, tamarisk already lines the shores of major watersheds in eleven Western states, gulping down from two to four-and-a-half million acre feet of water each year from the West, roughly the same amount of water that flows from Colorado to California annually.
Invasive Weed Can Grow One Foot a Month
Once introduced into an area, tamarisk spreads rapidly, producing millions of tiny wind-carried seeds capable of germinating in less than 24 hours. Left unchecked, tamarisk can grow as much as one foot a month, quickly choking out beneficial native plants. Though a desert plant, several stands of tamarisk in the Grand Canyon basin have adapted to moist conditions, surviving for over two years with their root crowns completely covered by water.
Campbell's tamarisk-fighting bill would allocate $20 million toward ridding the West of the weed and requires that ninety percent of the federal funds be used for eradication or rehabilitation, as opposed to administrative costs and "excessive" studies.
"My bill is action-oriented," stated Campbell in a press release. "We know tamarisk is a problem that could cost us untold millions in the future. This bill calls for its eradication."
In addition, the bill would require that participating states share 25 percent of the costs. The Governor of each participating state would appoint a state lead agency to administer the program, working with Indian Tribes, colleges and universities, nonprofit organizations, soil and water conservancy districts, and federal partners. This coordination would provide flexibility to deal with Tamarisks spread and help avoid duplicated effort.
The legislation would also establish a State Tamarisk Assistance Program to provide states the needed funds to control or eradicate Tamarisk. The Secretary of the Interior would assess the extent of Tamarisk invasion, identifying where it is in each affected state, and estimate the costs to restore the land. Grant funds will be distributed to states in accordance with the severity of their Tamarisk problem.
A similar bill, H.R. 695 -- the Tamarisk Research and Control Act of 2003 -- has been introduced in the House by Rep. Scott McInnis (Colorado, 3rd).