The city of Farmington is preparing Phase 2 of the Animas River Mitigation Project, an effort to remove invasive species from the banks of the river.
Crews, contracted through the San Juan Soil & Water Conservation District, will work to remove Russian olive and saltcedar across 30 acres in three locations: west of the Riverside Nature Center, on the north side of the Animas River at the Cottonwood landing and on the north side of the Animas River near All Veterans Memorial Plaza.
The central mission of the project is fire mitigation.
According to a news release from the city of Farmington, “Fire mitigation and invasive species removal reduce hazardous fuel density, create additional access for firefighters and reduce the intensity of fire should it occur.”
Georgette Allen, city spokeswoman, said the two main goals of fire mitigation are to reduce density and height of brush fires. Fire intensity of brush fires is kept lower if flames stay closer to the ground.
“These particular trees are more dense and don’t keep it (fire) on the ground,” Allen said.
Allen said the fire department will put up signs and help keep residents out of the work areas, but the crews will be contracted through the conservation district.
Chainsaws will be used for most of the removal work and crews will plant native grasses and cottonwood poles to revegetate the area, said Gary Hathorn, invasive weeds coordinator for the San Juan Soil & Water Conservation District. However, revegetation won’t commence until spraying is done.
The crews will spray the area with an herbicide approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and the New Mexico Department Agriculture Bureau of Pesticide Management. Spraying will continue until 2021.
Hathorn, citing a wildfire detection mapping plan conducted a couple of years ago, said there are more than 75,000 acres of Russian olive and saltcedar in San Juan County.
“When they get around water, they choke the native species out,” Hathorn said. “They get so thick you can’t even crawl through it. That’s not the case with your native species. So, there’s a tremendous amount of fuel in there with the Russian olive and saltcedar.”
A number of fires have spread because of Russian olive and saltcedar, Hathorn said. He specifically mentioned the County Road 4901 fire in 2012 that jumped the river multiple times because of the fuel provided by the invasive species.
Hathorn and his crews have removed more than 7,500 acres of invasive species in the last 12 years, and this year’s project, like many others, is funded by grants through the New Mexico State Forestry Division and the Water Trust Board.
The crews will start work next week and Hathorn expects they won’t be finished until late January or early February.
“It benefits thousands of people in the city of Farmington,” Hathorn said. “We try to keep Russian olive and saltcedar down for fire mitigation, but at the same time, it provides a steady value to the parks, for the river trails and the city of Farmington.”