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A changing landscape

Russian Olive

when opportunity knocks

Russian Olive moved into the American west with immigrant expansion in the 19th century. This fast growing non-native species eventually found desert and temperate riparian areas to be the perfect habitat. When left unchecked, its dense canopy ultimately blocks sunlight from reaching the ground and this results in less competition and more prolific growth. In northern New Mexico and many other places, this thorny tree has become established in the floodplains of most river valleys. Its silvery leaves and small round inedible ‘olive’ fruit are a common sight in the arid west between 8000 and 5000 feet in elevation, and as far down as sea level where enough moisture exists.

Russian Olive

Not surprisingly, The Ojo was a ‘jungle’ of russian olive when we arrived in 2006. Many areas were impenetrable, dark and foreboding. One often resulted to crawling to get from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’. Russian olive keeps moisture on it’s leaf underside a boon to mosquitoes in the summer. It is also this moisture that helps russian olive to dry out and squander water in the Bosques it inhabits. The tree is tenacious and cutting it spurs intense re-growth and this makes it difficult to kill.

We began clearing this opportunistic juggernaut in 2008, after completing construction of our house. This effort remains a work in progress. Our process of removal is entirely by hand, the most difficult way to clear but the most environmentally friendly way to go about it. Areas of the Bosque that have been clear now for ten years or more are a startling example of the resiliency of native grasses and other plants.

We may not eliminate this tree entirely, in fact the ‘feral forest’ has been left for comparative purposes. The positive aspects of restoring our Bosque are not always obvious at first but over time we have seen evidence of the benefits. More Coopers hawks are spotted as they have more area to hunt in. Beavers tend not to wander as far from the river’s edge as the cover they had in the past has been diminished. Elk seem to be more frequent visitors as grass continues to spread into once barren ground. We feel that we are making meaningful changes to this living system.