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Project expected to take three years to complete

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FARMINGTON — A 10-acre tree-and-brush-thinning project designed to remove invasive species and reduce the chances of a significant wildfire got underway March 9 in Animas Park.

The three-year project will remove non-native species — mainly Russian olive and salt cedar trees — that have taken over certain parts of the park, outcompeting such native species as willow trees and cottonwoods.

It includes not just the removal of the non-native trees, but also the application of herbicides to prevent their return, and the planting of native trees and grasses to replace them. City workers will remove the trees that are cut down.

Forest Fitness employees worked through a steady rain the afternoon of March 10 along the south bank of the Animas River to take down some of the trees and convert their smaller branches into mulch. The tree stumps they left behind were quickly covered in a green herbicide.

Robert Sterrett, deputy chief of the Farmington Fire Department, said the herbicide, which is approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New Mexico Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Pesticide Management, has to be applied within 15 minutes of the tree being cut down to be effective and prevent regrowth. More herbicide will be applied to the stumps next year.

The mulch will not be used in the park, Sterrett said, explaining that it is full of thorns and seeds, and is therefore unsuitable for use there.

The project area includes acreage along the Animas River and land adjacent to the Riverside Nature Center. City officials have said this phase of the project is expected to take approximately 30 days and should be done well in advance of Riverfest in late May.

While the work will leave much of the area looking noticeably less covered in trees and brush, Sterrett emphasized that workers are leaving in place such native species as New Mexico olive trees, rabbitbrush and cottonwoods. Riverside Nature Center employees have marked many of those plants with orange ribbons to help workers distinguish them from the non-native plants that are to be removed.

Sterrett said the removal of the invasive species will allow the native plants to flourish, as they will receive more sunlight, rainfall and nutrients with much of their competition eliminated.

Access to some trails in the project area is being restricted during the work. Park visitors are asked to follow and obey the signage.

The work is being funded by a grant from the New Mexico Water Trust Board. Anyone with questions about the project is asked to call Fire Station No. 1 at 505-599-1430 or visit ffdnm.org.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/216TU0e

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