Tamarisk Eradication is important because invasive species represent far more than the mere substitution of one tree for another. In tamarisks’ native habitat, a whole suite of insect predators keep its proliferation in check. When tamarisk (aka salt cedar) was imported to the Gila, however, these insects did not come along for the ride. This lack of predators, along with altered flow regimes, has allowed tamarisks to proliferate in certain riparian corridors, such as the heavily managed and dewatered Gila River in Arizona.


In New Mexico, though, the Gila River through the Gila Wilderness Area largely retains its historic hydrograph, and tamarisks occur only in isolated stands, making this an ideal time to knock them back before they become an overwhelming presence. Since 2016, UGWA has been working to eradicate tamarisk on the Gila River in the Gila Wilderness. This is time- and labor-intensive work because the trees can only be reached on foot or on horseback, and they sometimes need to be treated a couple of times before they give up the ghost.


In the past few years, we’ve treated the Middle Fork, surveyed the West Fork – there weren’t any – and the entire 40+ mile stretch of the mainstem Gila River through the wilderness area. In 2021, we expanded our work to include the wilderness portion of the East Fork, and even cut isolated trees downstream of the Gila River Bird Area. 


UGWA has the full support of the Gila National Forest for this important work, and will apply for foundation funding to tackle it again next summer.

Wilderness Trail Maintenance is one of those projects that provide instant gratification. That’s why it was so satisfying to collaborate with wilderness trails expert Melissa Green and volunteers from the Gila Chapter of the Back Country Horsemen, Continental Divide Trail Coalition, and other stalwart workers to maintain more than 30 miles of wilderness trails. 


The Forest Service’s trails maintenance budget continues to decline.  Many of the Gila’s wilderness trails are in bad shape due to wildfires, flooding, tree blowdown, erosion, and normal wear and tear. Green and crew brushed out trails, used handsaws to remove logs (chainsaws are prohibited in wilderness), did tread work, placed cairns, and repaired signage. 

Maintaining trails in America’s first wilderness: what’s not to love?!