Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mesquite Dunes: Practical Solution to Tamarisk Removal & Replacement

Common Windbreak structure along Southern Pacific Railway Right-of-Way corridors through the Coachella Valley from Cabazon to Indio California. It should be noted that this exact windbreak in Coachella Valley requires massive amounts of irrigation water which is provided for by the Palm Springs Desert Water Agency. Seriously, go down to this windbreak and observe all the two to three inch water pipes spewing out huge volumes of fresh water which could be used elsewhere. Not many local people even know this is going on down there.
Athel Tamarisk  (Tamarix aphylla)
The Tamarisk that the Southern Pacific Railroad planted between Indio and Whitewater on the Sunset Route as a sand & windbreak (back in 1958) is Tamarix aphylla. Tamarix aphylla can also be seen planted around many of the older homesteads. One of the more invasive Tamarisks is Tamarix chinensis which is a water sucking tree with smaller size compared to the other. It's a common or familiar site for many. They easily cross breed so it's difficult to tell them apart.

Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum  - (see footnote)

Coachella Valley Mesquite Dunes 
One of the areas of badly needed practical application for me would be to replace all  introduced Tamarisk Windbreaks with components right there within the southwest where a keen eye could have more easily utilizing local resources. Once in the Coachella Valley there were prime examples of great Mesquite Dunes. One of the last being in the mouth of the La Quinta Cove to the back door of Simon Motors Car Dealership. On last look through Google Earth, everything has vanished under the heavy foot of development. No doubt many have forgotten and most younger generations have no clue to what such marvelous natural structures these really were. One has to ask, why didn't those early pioneers sit back, observe, use their brain and think about replicating such perfectly ecologically suited natural structures and incorporating these into their Agricultural blueprint ? We could have avoided the present ecological disaster we have now as this irresponsible introduction of Tamarisk has resulted. Below is an excellent News Vidoe documenting the wastefulness of water in maintaining these Non-Native Windbreaks along Coahchella Valley Freeway and Railroad corridors.

KESQ News Channel - Palm Springs: Thirsty trees suck desert dry

Sweden ??
First of all, let me not demonize Tamarisk. The trees just do what they do. In the right circumstance they are beautiful. Even for desert lovers from the Southwestern USA who are fond of their own beloved Mesquite tree should realize that even this tree is a invasive weed in countless places around our globe. The Tamarisk have an important function & role from where they come. But of course there are checks and balances in those regions from which they originate. I even recently photographed some local Tamarisk varieties folks here in Sweden love to plant. YES - SWEDEN! The flowers are beautiful and honey bees are a commom visitor. 

This is the common flower structure for which many people 
 will no doubt be familiar with. 
There was an interesting article last year in Discovery News magazine of October 2011 with the title, "Biblical Tree For Climate Salvation". It made reference to a scriptural text about Abraham who planted a Tamarisk in Beersheba. The Hebrew word for Tamarisk is 'eshel'. 
 Genesis 21:33 (NW) - "After that he planted a tamarisk tree at Be′er-she′ba and called there upon the name of Jehovah the indefinitely lasting God."
Dr Yosef Weitz walking among
Tamarisk Groves
Of course Bible critics have disputed whether it was truly a Tamarisk Tree he actually planted. There is no end to the amount of critics anywhere on any topic that rubs most people the wrong way. But in this case they were wrong. Yet here is a quote from Yosef Weitz Forestry Officer of the Jewish Nation Fund often referred to as "Father of the Trees" who spoke about Abraham's choice of tree planting for that region called Beersheba. This is from Reader's Digest 1954. 
“The first tree Abraham put in the soil of Beersheba was a tamarisk. Following his lead, four years ago we put out two million in the same area. Abraham was right. The tamarisk is one of the few trees we have found that thrives in the south where yearly rainfall is less than six inches.”
Salt Cedars growing in Israel's
Aravah Desert
Below here is the actual article for which Discovery News Magazine got it's info and read up on the amazing  possibilities of Tamarisk being used in it's native ranges like Asia, Middle East & North Africa to possibly soak up carbon and releasing oxygen. They could be grown on land once considered barren and useless and eventually used as a source of bio-fuels themselves. The research is headed by Professor Aram Eshel, for which I find his name fascinating as the Hebrew word for Tamarisk is indeed 'eshel'
" Growing Something out of Nothing"
Okay, now that we know that the Tamarisk isn't all that bad or evil if located and utilized properly, let's discuss possible Mesquite Dune windbreak engineering possibilities. Such a windbreak couldn't just be haphazardly put together and left to it's own devices so to speak. A windbreak in either an agricultural, railroad, or highway right-of-way setting needs a certain amount of uniformity and organization. Take a look at this earthen berm created for a railroad right-of-way in China. It's perfect and allows for an incredible foundation for establishing nitrogen fixing desert plants like Mesquite, Palo Verde, Acacia, Ironwood etc. At the same time using Bio-Crustal mixes if available from companies like Terra Derm Foundation

The newly built windbreak wall extends a total length of 8,230 meters.  A forty-meter section was built with state-of-the-art technology that had never been used for the Trains running between Zhenzhuquan and Hongshanqu  in China before. This section of the windbreak wall is expected to provide safety shelter for both the railway and the highway. Of course utilizing such a structure as a foundation for plant establishment would require the construction be done well away at a greater distance from the Railroad tracks.
Other areas around the globe like the Al Baydha Project in Saudi Arabia where money has been spent on major infrastructure of large Earthen Berms to protect agricultural fields not only from drying winds which suck the life out of crops through an accelerated evapotranspiration from that country's blazing sun in summers, but also prevent large animals from intruding and damaging crops. The structure and project comes via the Permaculture Research Institute based in Australia.

Permaculture Research Institute
Stringing Barbed Wire across the top of the berm to discourage animals such as Camels from entering fields

Permaculture Research Institute

Cost-wise this will be about 60% less than a chain-link  fence, but there are other advantages as well. The berm   will not only keep out animals, but it will provide a good   foundation for putting up a wind-break of trees. Wind is the   second main cause of evaporation in our climate, and   evaporation is the main cause of water loss. We’ll plant the   outside of the berm with cacti and shorter, spikey desert   plants to keep animals from climbing, and we’ll plant the   inside with long-term nitrogen-fixing trees. Once those   plants are established, we’ll have a good windbreak   surrounding the entire agricultural area of the site, lowering   evaporation and increasing water retention."
Another important point before I move on. I've previously written about Terracing along with Berms and windbreaks as a page refernce on the right hand side of the blog. (see footnote) There is a point of note here on desert terracing to impede and slow water down from it's usual torrential coursing. I saw this done on the Island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands of Spain. They have a critical situation for water there and slowing it down to percolate into the volcanic soils is a must. Preventing as much rainfall water as possible from entering dry washes and flowing back into the sea, or at least slowing it way down and allowing more soaking into the Earth. Same situation at the Al Baydha Project. Take a look and learn.

Permaculture Research Institute
This terracing is implemented to slow down water and silt and allow it to soak into the earth

Image - Geologist Wayne Ranney

Sand Dune stabilization utilizing Prosopis & Acacia Trees in the Rajastani Desert in India
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand and figure out what has successfully happened in the above sand dune stabilization photograph taken by geologist Wayne Ranney. Incredibly it would be argued that such an undertaking would cost to much money to remove Tamarisk Wind/Sand  Break barriers, yet the fact is they are costly. Most people still don't even realize the vast amounts of water necessary to keep those windscreens thick dense. Yes they thrive in harsh deserts, but they use far more water than southwestern natives which can be deeper rooted if properly encouraged to do so. Mesquite dune establishment would be far less than costly and would be able to maintain themselves without much care beyond occasional trimming. Actual materials for building the dune or berm foundations could come from an easy source.  In and around Imperial, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, not to mention almost the entire state of Arizona, there are numerous giant mining operations which have completely obliterated the landscape. Not only their giant open pits and mountain leveling, but massive stretches of rock and sand tailings which have plenty of material for building a vast collection of barriers for agricultural  area enhancement. These companies after extracting countless billion$$$ from their cheap government leased or gifted claims often times simply leaving the land in worse condition than they found it. Why not obligate them to take a small percentage of that gifted obscene profit and give back to the planet ?

Mesquite Gold Mine - east of Brawley CA
One of the largest gold mines in the country is the Mesquite Mine which is located in Imperial County in the southeastern corner of the state of California. It's just northeast of sand dune playground of Glamis CA on Highway 78. They extracted 158,000 ounces of gold last year in 2011. Anyone know what price of gold was back then in 2011 ? Presently 24K gold is $1,772.01 USD. Last year it peaked at almost $1,900 an ounce, usually being in the high $1,800s. But if we averaged and gave a conservative $1,600 an ounce, the profit from 2011 would be $252.8 million USD. (* see footnote) The company is New Gold Inc and the Mesquite Gold Mine is just ONE of it's mines. Does anyone think they could part with a couple of millions to haul already free dirt to local sites ? 
United States Gypsum Mine at Fish Creek 
Imperial Co
The US Gypsum Mining site has been around much much longer and could likewise be coaxed into providing what they would consider raw worthless leftover materials to just such a project. The problem of course would be politics and rubbing the noses of to many important somebodies the wrong way. Yet at some point mankind is going to have to be forced to reckon with having to give back to Nature what it has taken. Generally that usually only happens in this world when things are to late. Places like Saudi Arabia have no choice but to establish responsible land management. Of course they do have the unlimited funds to accomplish this, good for them. They also know that their oil may one soon trickle out and preparation needs to happen now. 

Tree of Life – Bahrain | Photo by: Faisal Ansari
World Famous tourist attraction called Tree of Life in desert island nation of Bahrain near Saudi Arabia. Very Kool Link to an interactive Video panorama view of this famous "Tree of Life" Mesquite tree
The above tree is a well known tourist attraction and exists out in the middle of nowhere in the moonscape desert of Bahrain. The tree is a variety of Mesquite Prosopis cineraria which just happens to be the state tree of Rajasthan, India and the provincial tree of  the Sindh province of Pakistan. This tree in Bahrain is the largest and most known specimen of the native Asian Mesquite.  This particular tree is over 400 years old and the surrounding desert is devoid of water and rainfall for the most part. It is almost 32 feet or 10 meters in height. Like many Mesquite & African Acacia trees the potential for rooting depth can be anywhere from 160 to 200 feet deep. Such knowledge of survivability should be a key as to land vegetation establishment goals and the ability of such constructs as a Mesquite Dune Wind/Sand Barrier a plus for Agricultural area usage. 

There have been many programs to eradicate the Tamarisk from it's invasive range, but it's clear that unless you educate Farmers and the Public in general, there will be no change as to this tree being utilized as a wind barrier or garden shade mechanism. There will always be a seed source available. Any attempt at Riparian habitat site restoration would be a total waste of time and continual ongoing maintenance nightmare. At least a new design of windbreak would not only reduce seed sources, but also enhance natural native habitat for local wildlife. As time goes on, less and less people are interested in volunteering for such activities. Construction could certainly provide jobs and improvement to this part of the natural world. To bad such similar programs such as those 1930s depression era Conservation Corps and others couldn't be revived and folks on Government Entitlement Welfare Programs offered a chance at working not only for their pay, but also taught a vocational trade and receiving a feeling of self worth again. I guess that is to much to hope for. We just don't have a world like that yet where some Rights Group wouldn't step in and complain about how humiliating such a reform would be. Who knows, maybe the 3rd World countries will have to lead the way. Below is a gallery of mostly desert environments for which natural windbreaks constructed utilizing native flora could and should be used. The exception below is an experiment in Sudan which has had the reverse opposite as Tamarisks in Southwestern USA. Although I relate mostly to Desert environs, folks worldwide should know their native flora and clues found in Nature as to how and what to biomimic when it comes to practical application.

Image - Khalil Khani
Prosopis (Mesquite) used for Windbreak

imad from Journal of Forest Products & Industries

Benefits of Mesquite Trees (Prosopis juliflora & Chiliensis)
brought into Sudan drylands by Botanist E. Massey (1917)

image - Ramón Suárez Ojeda

Beach Dunes in Gran Canaria

Image, Michael Flaherty
Mesquite Dune down in Death Valley

Reference Footnotes:
 Swales, Bioswales, Berms, Terracing, Windbreaks

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