Ecological restoration along the Lower Salt River

Tamarisk removal Cleared Area Successful cottonwood and willow plantingsChris Kaiser of NAU instructing volunteers on watering protocol Intel volunteers carrying deep pot cottonwood transplants Construction of barriers using downed wood to protect newly planted areas


PHOENIX—Dec. 17, 2018— A long-term ecological restoration project is underway on the Lower Salt River of the Tonto National Forest’s Mesa Ranger District in the area of the 2017 Cactus Fire.

The Lower Salt River Restoration project will restore 70 acres of riparian habitat along an 11-mile stretch of the river by removing exotic plant species and planting over 500,000 native plants.  The Northern Arizona University School of Forestry, employees of the Tonto National Forest and Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management are collaborating on the project made possible through funding from the National Forest Foundation.

The first phase is the removal of 50 acres of burned tamarisk/salt cedar (Tamarix chinensis), 20 acres of giant reed grass (Arundo donax) and the application of herbicides to stump cuts. Following the removal of exotic species, treated areas will be re-vegetated with native tree species such as cottonwood, willow and mesquite. In addition, seeding of native pollinator promoting shrubs and forbs will take place.

Near the Lower Salt River, invasive, non-native species compete with native plant species, limit natural regeneration, and increase susceptibility to wildfire. By removing exotic plant species and restoring native plant communities, this project has the potential to increase native plant regeneration, decrease the risk of wildfire, and enhance native riparian habitat for endangered species such as the southwestern willow flycatcher and the yellow-billed.

Project Manager Justin Eddinger comments, “The project will continue through December 2019 and activities will involve novel techniques that have high potential to be expanded for use along other areas of the river and other invaded waterways throughout the Southwestern United States.”

Some of the benefits from this project include improving wetland habitat conditions, providing opportunities for local school district students to participate in the planting of trees, presenting valuable areas for environmental education classes to participate in science projects, and creating watchable wildlife areas for bird watchers and citizen scientists.

This riparian improvement project meets the Southwestern Region’s focus on wetland habitat restoration and underscores the Tonto National Forest’s commitment to restoring native species’ regenerative processes along the Salt River.