John Hollenhorst reportingThe City of St. George is launching a full-scale attack on an alien invader from Asia. It's a form of vegetation that looks pleasant and harmless, but is actually a damaging scourge throughout the West.
This huge swath of vegetation is just about the greenest thing in St. George, a place that needs all the green it can get.
But, they're going after it with a vengeance. Grinding it into mulch. Killing off the roots with poison.
The stuff is so thick, you couldn't walk into it without a machine like this, the "Timber Ax", to cut a path.
Ed Welch, Timber Ax driver: "It's like going into a tunnel. You get in there, it's black, it's thick, it's nasty, dirty and buggy. Lots of bugs."
All this greenery is an alien species from Central Asia called Tamarisk. Often called Salt Cedar, it was deliberately planted here in the 1930's to control erosion.
Larry Bulloch/ Director, St. George Public Works: "It was an experiment. And not it's become a headache to us."
It's now taken over nearly every river and creek in the West. During wet periods it chokes off drainages and aggravates flooding. In dryer times it may be worse.
Larry Bulloch: "The tamarisk is consuming millions of gallons of water that otherwise could be used for public purposes."
In fact, one plant can consume more than 300 gallons a day! Multiply that by millions of plants and you can see why the city bought this machine. In a few minutes, it clears hundreds of square feet.
It sure beats the old method of using jail inmates and chain saws. They tried that last year and averaged about two acres a month."
With 1500 acres of Tamarisk within city limits, even the Timber Ax may not get rid of it all.
Ed Welch, Timber Ax Driver: "My personal opinion... not within my career."
But every war starts with the first battle. The hope is a determined assault now, and permanent vigilance, will keep the invader under control.
Efforts are underway throughout the West to control Tamarisk. But it's so prolific, it's notoriously hard to get rid of. In Nevada they're experimenting with an imported Chinese beetle that eats the Tamarisk leaves.