Resident warns about fire risk of non-native, invasive trees

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MESA COUNTY, Colo. (KKCO/KJCT)-- The rain isn't providing much relief to the dry conditions in the Grand Valle. Fire fuels are everywhere, and firefighters are asking residents to mitigate their yards of any dead debris.

Some residents said invasive species, specifically non-native trees, are causing concern in these high fire risk conditions.

“I don't worry about my home because I keep it clear,” said Mike Lobato, who lives in a Redlands neighborhood. “But there are a lot of homes that aren’t maintained. They let shrubs grow around their homes, which is an extreme fire hazard.”

Lobato isn’t talking about trees in general. It’s non-native, invasive trees that are causing concern. The species he sees often in the area are Tamarisk, Russian Olive and Siberian Elms.

“These trees seed and germinate so rapidly that they produce thousands of seeds,” Lobato said. “And you can imagine how fast they get out of hand.”

Lobato said the invasive species are not sustainable and suck up a lot of the water which puts other plants at risk. They also dry out quickly, creating a fuel for fire.

“It wouldn't take much to cause a big problem,” he said.

The Grand Junction Fire Department said residents should keep a 30- foot defensible area around your home, in the case of a wildfire. Invasive trees can cause dangerous conditions.

“They have a lot of awkward branches that break and a lot of dead branches and leaves sitting around,” said Dirk Clingman, a spokesman for the Grand Junction Fire Department. “If you have a good distance between bushes, invasive plants germinate so quickly that the species will fill the space, allowing the fire to spread.”

The Siberian Elm tree is not listed on the state’s noxious weed list, meaning it's not maintained. The Mesa County Noxious Weed and Pest Control Management said residents should maintain all vegetation on their own property.

“The county is here to support private property owners with a lot of invasive species management with education, and helping people know where to look and find the right resources,” said Teresa Nees, with The Mesa County Noxious Weed and Pest Control Management.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture decides what vegetation is put on the “noxious” list.

“The county and municipalities do invasive species management,” Nees said. “We do roadside herbigation for smaller plants.”

If you have any question about a plant, Nees said to contact the Colorado State University Extension unit to help identify vegetation. You can also visit The Colorado Department of Agriculture for more resources.

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