Salinas River in South County (copy)

An invasive bamboo-like species called arundo is encumbering the natural ecology of the Salinas River and increasing flood risk to nearby farmland. But the conservation agency charged with protecting the area recently secured nearly $3 million from state coffers for the purpose of fighting the invasion.

The money will go toward mowing 215 acres of Arundo donax along the river between Soledad and Gonzales, out of the total estimated 1,500 acres that are “infested,” according to the Resource Conservation District of Monterey County. Then, herbicides will be applied to the treated swath.

Arundo threatens its surroundings by sucking up inordinate amounts of water that’s needed by fish, wildlife and farmers—while at the same making flooding more likely by outcompeting native river bank vegetation.

Researchers are hoping that eradicating arundo will help bolster biodiversity, but they can’t yet be sure they’ll get the desired effect.

“We have seen increases in the amount and diversity of wildlife in areas where we have cleared arundo, but so far we haven’t quantified this benefit,” Emily Zefferman, a ecologist with the conservation district, said in a statement. “The Salinas River corridor has some of the only remaining wildlife habitat in the Salinas Valley, and it’s important that we understand how wildlife respond to vegetation management along the river.”

The funding for the project comes from proceeds of a bond measure passed by California voters in 2014. The Proposition 1 Water Bond moneys are allocated through a grant program administered by the California Wildlife Conservation Board.

Before mowing work can begin, conservationists must obtain permission from the private landholders who control access along almost the entire stretch of river.

”Fortunately, there’s no love lost on arundo by pretty much anyone on the river,” Paul Robins, the executive director of the conservation district, said in a statement.

Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers the environment, agriculture and K-12 education, as well as Seaside, Marina, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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