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Should the cholla and rabbitbrush stay or go?

 
T Phillips
Posts: 34
Location: Colorado Springs, CO zone 5A / Canon City, CO zone 5B
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At our Canon City, CO homestead, we have about 8 sloping, usable acres, and it is marginal. The remaining 29 acres are rock outcroppings, rocky hillsides and overgrown almost wetland. So, zone 5 stuff.

Within that 8 usable acres are a whole lot of cholla and rubber rabbitbrush. I was told this is typical of overgrazed western areas. (After 3 years of no horses grazing, we have seen quite a rebound in the grasses, which was very surprising.) I can't decide how much, if any, of these plants to remove for swaling and food forest establishment.

I know that some animals can use rabbitbrush as a winter browse, but we have very few deer pass through, as we are next to a huge BLM tract near Cactus Mountain where they seem to prefer to hang out. We do have a small rabbit population that seems to use the rabbitbrush as a corridor of cover to move across the land. I don't want to deprive them of needed cover, but I'd really like to have the space for planting. And I am having trouble finding any information on the value of cholla (ours is tree or chainlink or a some cross thereof) to animals.

The cholla is painful for us and our dogs to get stuck with - it almost seems to leap out at us - and if it doesn't really serve anyone, I'd like to see it gone. The rabbitbrush is extremely dense and covers a lot of ground. All the local people advocate eradication of both on private lands, but they're not permaculture minded. It's all about grazing for them. Please chime in if you can shed some light on this for me. Thanks-
 
John Elliott
pollinator
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While cholla may provide a home for some wildlife, the negatives that you mention put it in the category "Not fit for co-habitation with humans" -- kind of like poison ivy. I would say go ahead and pull it and dispose of it. When it dries out, it would probably make great biochar.

You're not the first ones to be under the impression that it jumps. When I was young, I knew it as "jumping cactus" before I ever learned the name cholla. As far as I'm concerned, it belongs on the other side of a fence that it can't jump over.
 
T Phillips
Posts: 34
Location: Colorado Springs, CO zone 5A / Canon City, CO zone 5B
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Thanks for your input, John. I tend to suffer from the "everything green is sacred" state of mind, even when it is not practical.
 
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