Erosional Consequence of Saltcedar Control
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- Vincent, K.R., Friedman, J.M. & Griffin, E.R. Environmental Management (2009) 44: 218. doi:10.1007/s00267-009-9314-8
Removal of nonnative riparian trees is accelerating to conserve water and improve habitat for native species. Widespread control of dominant species, however, can lead to unintended erosion. Helicopter herbicide application in 2003 along a 12-km reach of the Rio Puerco, New Mexico, eliminated the target invasive species saltcedar (Tamarix spp.), which dominated the floodplain, as well as the native species sandbar willow (Salix exigua Nuttall), which occurred as a fringe along the channel. Herbicide application initiated a natural experiment testing the importance of riparian vegetation for bank stability along this data-rich river. A flood three years later eroded about 680,000 m3 of sediment, increasing mean channel width of the sprayed reach by 84%. Erosion upstream and downstream from the sprayed reach during this flood was inconsequential. Sand eroded from channel banks was transported an average of 5 km downstream and deposited on the floodplain and channel bed. Although vegetation was killed across the floodplain in the sprayed reach, erosion was almost entirely confined to the channel banks. The absence of dense, flexible woody stems on the banks reduced drag on the flow, leading to high shear stress at the toe of the banks, fluvial erosion, bank undercutting, and mass failure. The potential for increased erosion must be included in consideration of phreatophyte control projects.