Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, NM)

Can it be saved?(Final)

Byline: Tania Soussan Journal Staff Writer

Disasters in sickened bosque create opportunity for renewal on Rio Grande

The bosque, a green ribbon of cottonwoods that runs through the heart of the middle Rio Grande valley, is sick.

Salt cedar, Russian olive and other invasive plants have moved in. Water no longer flows over the banks of the river to wash out debris and nourish native seedlings. Almost all the cottonwoods are 60 years old or so, well into middle age.

For years, experts have warned that devastating fires were inevitable in the unhealthy -- and fuel-laden -- bosque.

Last week, their predictions came true. The fires that raced along both sides of the Rio Grande through Albuquerque -- burning hundreds of acres, threatening homes and businesses, costing $1 million a day to battle -- highlighted the terrible shape the bosque is in.

But by drawing attention to the problems, they also opened the door for potential federal emergency funding to help heal the ecosystem more quickly.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., Gov. Bill Richardson, Mayor Martin Chavez and Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District Chief Engineer Subhas Shah will meet Tuesday with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a bosque strategy session.

The fires present opportunities to quickly bring in money for restoration and fire prevention work that could help clear dead wood and salt cedar, replant native trees and create grassy meadows.

"It should allow us to speed up a lot of the work," Domenici said by telephone Friday. "Although it's been devastating, it's obvious that we should take advantage of the opportunities this situation presents. …

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