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BLM treating sagebrush with air drops to benefit native grasses

About 9,000 acres being targeted with herbicide pellets dropped from airplane
The Bureau of Land Management is using low-flying planes to treat about 9,000 acres of sagebrush throughout northwestern New Mexico. The agency’s goal is to restore native grasslands.

FARMINGTON – The Bureau of Land Management is treating roughly 9,000 acres of sagebrush in northwestern New Mexico, the agency announced this week.

The program, part of the 2005 Restore New Mexico initiative, involves BLM-managed state and private lands where sagebrush levels have passed historic and naturally occurring levels in San Juan, Rio Arriba and Sandoval counties, according to the BLM. To date, the plan has treated more than 3 million acres across the state.

The goal of the treatments is to “improve plant diversity, which will benefit wildlife, rangeland and watershed health” and, ultimately, increase native grasses and vegetation, said Allison Sandoval, spokeswoman for the BLM’s New Mexico state office.

Sagebrush, with a deep root system, sucks more water down from the grasses at the surface level, often pushing out the native grasses and vegetation that can’t compete for water, said Melissa May, the district manager with the San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District, a partner organization on the project.

“We’re not trying to eradicate the sagebrush, but to push back some of it so that the plants that would be growing in-between the sagebrush can grow,” she said.

The sagebrush has historically taken hold in these areas as a result of overgrazing. At the turn of the century, San Juan County was home to huge herds of cattle and sheep that would prefer to eat only natural grasses, leaving the sagebrush to grow wider and deeper root systems in the area, May said.

The program uses low-flying airplanes to drop herbicide pellets, which dissolve in the rain and are absorbed about 2 feet into the soil. The herbicide is then taken up by the root systems and ultimately lowers the sagebrush density, according to the BLM’s release. The agency said it does not drop the pellets near waterways or on steep slopes.

The San Juan County treatment, based out of the Navajo Dam airport, was expected to be completed Thursday afternoon, May said.

lweber@durangoherald.com

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