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Time for management plan for Cortez’ Carpenter Natural Area

In recent years, our unique Carpenter Natural Area in Cortez has endured various questionable management practices, particularly the cutting of native milkweed, sumac and willows, along the main path. Also Russian olive (non-natives, but valuable to wildlife) cuttings.

Yet, there is no management plan from when Carpenter was established in 1993 or, apparently, since. It was deeded to the city, which was a great beginning. However, no ordinance exists, according to City Clerk Linda Smith.

Carpenter is directly next to Independent Logging Co., in the news a few months back, when Cortez City Council voted against rezoning the commercial property to industrial.

Areas such as Carpenter usually have management plans. There are citizens willing to assist in creating such a plan. Professionals with biology and archaeology-related credentials should be included, too.

This management plan should identify goals. Would Carpenter Natural Area be managed primarily for ecosystem health? Or for human use of those ecosystems? Or what? Whatever they are, they should be based on ecological principles, and include management monitoring by trained parks and recreation employees.

Milkweed cutting, for example, often at the height of flowering, seems to be done without awareness that this species is a critical food source for endangered Monarch butterflies. These butterflies have been observed in Carpenter Natural Area, and are appreciated by everyone. Furthermore, the “showy milkweed,” growing right by the main path, has gorgeous large, bright pink clumps of flowers, which delight the eyes and waft an intoxicating scent into the air for pollinators. Enjoyed by Carpenter walkers, too.

Why is this cut?

This year, dozens of Russian olives were cut at the base, suddenly removing a huge amount of tree-type vegetation. Even these non-native Russian olive trees feed, shelter and provide nesting sites to native species (50 counted to date in various studies), although studies have shown a somewhat higher number of wildlife species in native vegetation, which is ideal.

But when a non-native species such as Russian Olive has existed for a long time, doesn’t it make sense to gradually make changes so that now-dependent native wildlife has time to adjust? According to a University of California, Davis’ weed control book, cutting these trees can be combined with stump burning for effective control. Labor-intensive, yes, but volunteers could be trained to assist with this process.

With the Russian olives gone, what will migrating songbirds and other wildlife eat, and where will they rest and nest next spring? Apparently, no plans to replace the olives with native species exist, but even if they did, it would take time for natives to grow.

Clearly, there needs to be a plan, publicly available, guided by knowledgeable science-based experts, so that work is done with best science practices in mind.

A final concern is that treadmarks from heavy equipment along the main path and going straight out across the drainage, damaging native plants such as milkweed, grasses and sagebrush, show questionable judgment. Apparently, this was done by Montezuma County gratis to the city.

Why was heavy equipment necessary? For Russian olive cutting, again, not the best to cut them wholesale. Couldn’t a chain saw have been carried from tree to tree?

A related point is that disturbed areas, such as those in heavy equipment tracks, are prime opportunities for new invasive species to set up shop.

We live on a dynamic planet greatly influenced by us humans. For Carpenter, our unique natural area dearly loved by many diverse residents, let’s develop, then use our best science-based management practices with supervision to ensure the best outcomes, meeting stated goals in a publicly available management plan.

April Baisan is a science educator in Cortez.