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by Steven R. Estes

Improving or enhancing the health of a watershed the size of the one with which we are blessed is a tall order by anyone’s estimation. Throughout the west, streams and rivers typically run through very large parcels of either public or private land. When they become degraded (in our focus via invasive plant species) efforts toward improvements begin with conversations involving usually just a handful of stakeholders. Among these might be a few ranchers holding thousands of acres each and perhaps a National Forest or two. 

Though no small chore, reaching cooperation among 5 or 10 players in the arid west regarding flowing waters pales in comparison to the task ahead in the Verde River watershed. Here there are over 1700 individual conversations waiting to happen. With some demonstration-level funding in hand and the will to make an impact sufficient to meet the scale of the task ahead, the Friends of the Verde River Greenway (FVRG) launched its project. 

With funding in place June, 2010, the Community Outreach project began in earnest 4 months later with the hiring of the Community Outreach Director. The prime objective is to engage private landowners whose properties involve a perennial stream within the Verde River watershed. First year goals of the funding agreement called for 3 miles of privately held riverside habitat to be under agreement to map for thepresence of invasive species of plants. First year totals came in at 7 miles. Second year expectations are to total 6 miles. It appears these will settle near 20 miles. 

Knowing that identifying invasive occurrences on private land would raise expectations for mitigation plans, FVRG set out to leverage these successes toward funding to undertake removal, treatment, and monitoring on presently (and yet to be) mapped lands. That effort came into realization late 2011, resulting in boots hitting the ground to remove, treat, and monitor re-growth of our 4 most wanted invaders – Tree of Heaven (Ailanthis), Tamarisk (Saltcedar), Giant Reed (Arundo), and Russian Olive.

Presentations, events, media submissions, news articles, radio coverage, and TV appearances all have served to support the up-tick in community awareness of the threat to river health that these 

invaders present. Continuing efforts in these realms will, over time, result in a notably healthier and vibrant Verde River watershed. Nothing, however, can replace the invaluable face-to-face interactions and ongoing bonds they yield. 

In the end it is indeed – a river of relationships.

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