Colorado officials unleash beetles to battle water-sucking weed

Colorado agriculture officials are widening their battle against the West’s most voracious invasive weed, tamarisk, by deploying a controversial leaf-eating Chinese beetle east of the Continental Divide. As national expenditures in a decade-old campaign to combat invasive species top $1.3 billion a year, proponents see these beetles as cost-saving gems.

But there are concerns. The Diorhabdas may threaten an endangered bird, the southwestern willow flycatcher, which uses tamarisk in New Mexico and Arizona for nesting. The federal government recently was forced by a lawsuit to suspend its releases of Diorhabda beetles in eight Western states — where tamarisk has gobbled more than 1.5 million riparian acres.

Yet Colorado biologists contend the beetle is relatively benign and are pressing ahead — determined to suppress tamarisk with fight-the-enemy-with-its-enemy tactics that so far have proved successful.

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