Virgin River Riparian Restoration
BLM is completing riparian restoration work along the Virgin River at Shinob Kibe, found within the city limits of Washington City. The area above the Washington Fields Bridge, at the site of the new Washington City trail, supports a large stand of tamarisk trees which has pushed out the beneficial native species. Through an agreement (grant) between BLM and the American Conservation Experience (ACE) organization, several ACE crews have worked this April with chainsaws and other hand tools to cut tamarisk. The cuttings have been stock piled in an adjacent field and will be burned later this year when the weather cools. Later in May, the ACE crews will be planting desirable species such as Fremont cottonwood, coyote willow, mesquite, and desert willow, which BLM will water through this first growing season to help them get established.
The project encompasses designated critical habitat for two endangered fish, woundfin, and Virgin River chub. These fish have steadily declined in numbers since they were listed as endangered species, and first monitored. The population declines of the woundfin have been especially sharp, leaving this species on the edge of extinction. Among the environmental factors contributing to the decline of these fish has been the change in channel morphology. The invasive tamarisk has converted the once braided shallow channel of the Virgin River to a more centralized and deeper channel. The deeper channel has resulted in a loss of important habitat for these fish. Also, the riparian habitat for Southwestern willow flycatcher, an endangered species has been altered due to the invasion and establishment of pure stands of tamarisk.
Restoration of the Virgin River from tamarisk to native Fremont cottonwood and coyote willow will benefit a variety of wildlife species. Where large stands of tamarisk interface with the urban communities of St. George, Santa Clara, Washington, and Hurricane, a significant public safety issue exists from the threat of wildfire. Tamarisk control and conversion to native vegetation will help alleviate this concern and reverse tamarisk related effects to flooding in this urban corridor. Other sites along the Virgin River which have been targeted for riparian restoration include the old town site at Grafton (near Zion National Park), and the Mosquito Cove area west of Grafton which has been extensively used by campers in the past, and other recreation enthusiasts.