For decades, the Soil Conservation Service sold Russian olive trees for windbreaks and wildlife habitat in the Columbia Basin. They will grow in alkaline soil and are drought-tolerant and therefore well adapted to our area. The Washington Ornithological Society has identified 92 species of birds that utilize Russian olives in the Columbia Basin. While some of those are merely using them to roost and any tree would do, many of those species are dependent on their fruit for a food source. Besides birds using them for a habitat, many animals depend on these trees: deer browse and seek shade and shelter in the Russian olive thickets, beavers cut material for dams and pygmy rabbits eat the fruits. The thorny thickets are a favorite hiding spot for Bre’r Rabbit.
Now, the Noxious Weed Control Board is issuing mandates to landholders to eradicate this tree which has become a habitat for so many animals. In many areas of the Columbia Basin, it is the only kind of tree which will tolerate the marginal soil and water conditions and the extremes of heat and cold we have here. The powers that be recommend replacing them with cottonwoods or willows. However neither of these trees will supply the abundant food source provided by Russian olives.
What’s the problem? Some people are allergic. Well, some people are allergic to cottonwoods, too. I am one who is allergic to Russian olive trees; they give me a headache for the week or so they are in bloom every spring. However, I also enjoy the birds and animals that depend on these trees for food and shelter all year round. I can put up with short-term discomfort for the long-term benefit to our wildlife. I find it aggravating that one government agency recommends we plant it and another comes along and fines us for having it growing on our property.
Grant County Weed Board claims this mandate came down from the state level. However, the state website lists Russian olive as a “class C weed” which leaves it to the discretion of the counties whether or not to consider it “noxious.” According to WAC 16-750-022 the Weed Board is currently in the process of compiling their lists for the coming year. If you have an opinion on the fate of this tree and the wildlife it supports, now is the time to voice it to Grant County Weed Control, 32 C Stm NW #321, Ephrata, WA 98823.