(SUN PHOTO/ William Thompson) Ag experts are encouraging landowners to spray salt cedar on their property.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may declare lands along the Canadian River "critical habitats" — limiting access to the land even to owners — later this year if progress is not made in controlling the spread of salt cedar, officials said.
John Williams of the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority said the federal agency is concerned about protecting an endangered minnow, the Arkansas shiner, and salt cedar limits the amount of available fresh water for the minnow.
"The salt cedar is an invasive, non-native plant that grows along streams and waterways," Williams said. "It uses a tremendous amount of water, thus affecting water levels in reservoirs like Ute Lake."
"Spraying the salt cedar will help protect the shiner, keep the lands from being designated critical habitats, which could limit use of the land by the landowners, and it would help increase the amount of water in Ute Lake," Williams said.
But landowners on the Canadian River won1t have to curb the problem on their own.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service is offering Quay County landowners reimbursement for spraying salt cedar plants on their property.
Relissa Nials, soil conservationist for the NRCS, said up to 65 percent of the spraying cost can be reimbursed provided landowners apply for the funds in advance.
"If the landowners do any spraying before they apply then they will be ineligible for the reimbursement," Nials said.
Quay County Manager Terry Turner said a mature salt cedar can absorb up to 250 gallons of water a day.
"I strongly endorse the spraying of salt cedar," Turner said. "I heard one rancher say that since he has sprayed for salt cedar, a stream has reappeared on his property."
Pete Walden of the New Mexico State University extension service, said he encourages all landowners to spray the salt cedar whether they seek government assistance or not.
"The extension service is trying to educate people about the need to control salt cedar," Walden said. "If a landowner doesn1t spray then the seeds will spread."
Nials said a mature salt cedar plant actually deposits salt into land and the streams along which the plant grows.
"The salt damages the soil and gets into the streams," Nials said, "making it unhealthy for fish and plants."
Nials said once a salt cedar plant is sprayed it takes up to three years for the plant to die.
"People brought the plants to New Mexico in the early 1900's because they thought the plant made a good windbreak and stabilized stream beds," said Nails, who said that the plant is so hardy and voracious it will be nearly impossible to eradicate it.
Williams said the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority is submitting a plan to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, showing efforts underway for controlling the salt cedar. Williams said the plan may deter the federal agency from declaring lands along the Canadian River as critical habitats.
Dialing for Dollars
To apply for reimbursement for salt cedar spraying contact The Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Quay County at 461-3612, ext. 3.