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Removing Russian Olive Trees: Collaborative Trainings in Escalante, UT

Monday, March 18th, 2019

Training 56 Youth in Conservation & Safety

Canyon Country Youth Corps (CCYC) is a youth Conservation Corps that trains up to 56 individuals every year on various conservation and restoration techniques. CCYC works across Utah completing projects that help the restoration of riparian areas and pinyon-juniper forests. In a collaborative effort to remove Russian Olive (an invasive tree) along the Escalante river, CCYC works with a Watershed Partnership and three other Conservation Corps of the Four Corners region. This collaboration has been in place for the past 8 years.

picture of team to remove russian olive

For 8 years, CCYC has collaborated with other corps to equip individuals for this conservation work

Invasive Russian Olive Trees

Russian Olive was originally introduced to the region as a riverbank stabilizer; it does the job well, too well. Unfortunately, it became an invasive species to the area, particularly on rivers. This means it was able to out compete native plant species. As a result of Russian Olive establishment, the river banks have become super-stabilized. This is not good for a healthy, moving river which is supposed to have bends, curves, braiding, slow parts, and fast parts that change over time.

Russian Olive also shades the river. This extra shade along an entire river, especially a small river like the Escalante, results in significant water temperature cooling. This is detrimental to native fish populations who require a specific temperature range for mating and spawning. With all the negative effects of Russian Olive and no forseason circumstance of Russian Olive being outcompeted by native plant species, mechanical and chemical removal has become necessary. This is where four Conservation Corps working together comes into play.

Remote Backcountry Work

The four Conservation Corps have divided and conquered Russian Olive all along the Escalante River. The Escalante River has some pretty remote sections requiring crews to work in the backcountry.

Teams often travel to extremely remote locations

This work can be a toll on the Crew Members and Leaders throughout the season as they work 8 days in the backcountry every other week cutting down thorny Russian Olive trees with chainsaws in the chilly fall weather. Running several Conservation Corps crews in the backcountry for several months requires an extensive training period.

Safety First

Safety is always the number one concern. The four Conservation Corps go through first aid training and become familiar with their first aid kits, chainsaw training, and herbicide application training. Crews also go through an emergency response training which includes meeting a heli-tech crew and talking about the process of a heli-evac and the requirements for clearing out a landing pad for a helicopter.

Emergency response training includes understanding heli-evac processes

The hope is an emergency evacuation will never be necessary. However, the extensive trainings aid the crews in feeling more prepared for safe living and working in the backcountry. They are given advise on how to stay positive and supportive with each other through a long season. And on a technical level they learn valuable skills on chainsaw work, herbicide application, riparian restoration techniques, and backcountry evacuation procedures.

8 Years of Conservation & Friendships

8 years later the large collaboration between the Watershed Partnership and the four Conservation Corps is coming to a close. This was a long, slow process, but fortunately the Escalante River has gone through initial treatment of Russian Olive. Following years will be dedicated to re-sprout treatment. Sadly, it means this year was the very last cross-Corps training. The work will slow down significantly and all four Conservation Corps will no longer be needed. It is a bittersweet end to a large collaboration where the Conservation Corps of the region where able to gain a network of friends, colleagues, and fellow explorers.

Written by Natalya Walker

Helping Save the Colorado River Watershed from Invasive Species

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

Canyon Country Youth Corps members rafting downriver to provide conservation work

The Colorado River Watershed begins high in the snowcapped Rocky Mountains, providing a vital water source for cities across the Southwestern United States from Las Vegas to Grand Junction to Los Angeles and San Diego. This watershed also provides vital water to California farmers in the “world’s breadbasket.”

Clogged Waterways & Lost Habitats

Invasive tamarisk and Russian olive trees have clogged these waterways, destroying native habitats, wasting an important water supply, and making recreational activities difficult. Adventure® Medical Kits supports youth crews in removing these invasive species through their donation of medical and first aid kits to the Canyon Country Youth Corps.

Overgrowth and brush from invasive species have clogged the Colorado River Watershed

Overgrowth and brush from invasive species have clogged the Colorado River Watershed

Restoration & Conservation Work

Canyon Country Youth Corps has been working with its partners on an intensive removal effort along the Dolores and Escalante Rivers for over the last five years. These two rivers have been chosen because they are major arteries into the Colorado River. If tamarisk and Russian olive are removed from these and other arteries, seeds will stop flowing into the Colorado River, thus protecting the larger watershed from the further spreading of these invasive trees.

Rafting down the river

Rafting down the river to reach areas that need clearing out

Removal efforts require Canyon County Youth Corps members to raft far into the remote backcountry on these rivers for up to 10 days at a time. When pulling together a work trip along these rivers, things can become challenging. Crews need to carry chainsaws, fuel, hand tools, and herbicides. Sections of these rivers are remote. The Canyon Country Youth Corps often uses horses to reach the Escalante River. The Dolores River goes from wild whitewater to a trickle within a few miles, making the rafting experience an adventure.

The breathtaking beauty of the Colorado River Watershed

At the beginning of a recent trip on the Dolores River, a scout raft was funneled into a boulder and three of its occupants were launched into the river. Luckily no one was hurt, but the crews were prepared if there had been an injury because of the medical kits they had from Adventure® Medical Kits.

Camping along the river edge for the night

Camping along the river edge for the night

Conservation: A Team Effort

These important efforts to remove invasive species involve a number of different groups. The Tamarisk Coalition, Escalante River Watershed Partners, Dolores River Restoration Partnership, Western Colorado Conservation Corps, Southwest Conservation Corps, and public lands agencies from the affected states and federal government work together to complete this effort. Often, these trips require authorization from wildlife biologists or environmental clearance because crews go into sensitive areas with endangered birds or delicate ecosystems.

Big thanks to Adventure® Medical Kits for their support of this work. They are helping make our waterways healthy and sustainable.

About Canyon Country Youth Corps

 

The 2017 Canyon Country Youth Corp crew

For over 30 years, Four Corners School of Outdoor Education has created learning experiences about the Colorado Plateau through programs like the Canyon Country Youth Corps. This program hires young adults to complete conservation and other service projects on public lands in order to support the health and accessibility of these lands.

Adventure® Medical Kits is proud to have supported the work of Four Corners School’s for over 20 years.