I am an arborist and my interest in trees came young, and in the Gila River shortly thereafter. I started reading everything I could find out about the area; I even was able to get the field notes of the early explorers. Trying to figure out where the different parties were in the watershed was always fun.
I always assumed what happened to the trees on the Gila was the dams were built, trees died and they were removed. But that’s wrong, the trees were gone before the dams were built. A man in Blackwater once told me this and it took me 50 years to figure out he was right.
In the 1850s the trees started to be cut to make coke -- "think Coke Ovens" -- they were smelting gold. They couldn't make coke fast enough and a wagon load of mesquite or ironwood brought good money. This rolled out the red carpet for the salt cedar invasion brought in by the railroads.
Once the salt cedar grows, it becomes difficult for any of the native species to reestablish themselves. Salt cedar was considered worthless; it stinks when it burns, it won't make coke, it’s not strong enough for building material, etc. It took over and changed the complete dynamics of the river.
In the 1990s the USDA released about a half-dozen varieties of beetles that feed on tamarack, i.e. salt cedar in Montana, the Dakotas, Wyoming and Washington. The program eventually shut down, but the bugs remain on the loose. It takes them about seven years to kill a tree. These trees were a fire hazard before; now they’re a fire hazard on steroids. Burn them off and they come back like hairs on a dog, the bug population builds up again, rinse and repeat. The bug will never eliminate the salt cedar; nature doesn't work that way.
But there is a solution: we need to put the trees that belong back on that river, all the way from Coolidge Dam and above to Yuma. I am not suggesting we take any water from anyone that has laid claim to it. I can't lay out my whole plan, it's a long river. Basically we need to slow it down without impeding it, we need to put the wiggles and the waggles back in it. That will regain one of its functions, recharge: We need to put the water back under ground. Injection wells are not the answer. Once the trees are reestablished they will start to stabilize the riverbed, which will mean less dust coming straight at Phoenix. We cut them down and now we can plant them back. This is not an impossible task, it will just take the will to do it.
What we will have when we are done is one of the most beautiful desert parks ever. We can never take the river back to the 1860s but we can make it better than today. Doing nothing is not an option. My phone number is 520-840-4151 -- talk to me, see if you like my plan. Then call up your county supervisor, your mayor, congressman or -woman, call up Gov. Doug Ducey and tell him you know someone that has a plan and they need to talk to me. Make me remember the day I made my number public.