Platte River Revival

Casper City Administrative Analyst Jolene Martinez walks along a newly constructed bank of the North Platte River in 2015 at Morad Park in Casper. Workers removed more than 2,000 invasive Russian olive trees and narrowed the width of the river to improve flow and overall health.

File, Star-Tribune

Russian olive trees aren’t easy to remove, but the city of Casper’s efforts to eradicate the invasive species along the North Platte River received a boost on June 16 from a $5,000 grant awarded by the Wyoming Governor’s Big Game License Coalition.

“We’re incredibly pleased and can’t wait to report the great results,” said Jolene Martinez, the special projects coordinator with the Public Services Department.

Russian olive removal and regrowth monitoring in the Morad Water Wellfield are among goals outlined in the Platte River Revival, a longstanding effort by the city to clean up the formerly polluted river.

Martinez said it’s essential to remove the intrusive trees, because they absorb a significant amount of water from the soil, which is harmful to the native vegetation.

“You won’t find many native plants growing near them,” she remarked.

The Russian olive is also a “poor food source” for the local wildlife, according to Martinez.

The projects coordinator, who estimated there are about 500 trees that need to be removed from the Morad Water Wellfield, said the process will begin in August.

She explained that the department has contracted Johnny Appleseed to mechanically remove the trees using excavators and skid steers. To properly eradicate a Russian olive, even the roots must be removed or it will grow back.

“There will be no chemicals used at all,” she said, adding that the department is concerned about contaminating the water.

Martinez is confident the project will be a success, as the department previously hired Johnny Appleseed in 2014 to remove about 600 Russian olive trees from Morad Park.

None of those trees has grown back so far, she said.

Martinez added that the Russian olive trees were initially introduced to Wyoming by the government, because they can survive in dry climates.

“It was actually the (federal) government that thought they would be an excellent idea,” she explained. “Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know.”

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