The spread of tamarisk (Tamarix spp., also known as saltcedar) is a significant ecological disturbance in western North America and has long been targeted for control, leading to the importation of the northern tamarisk beetle (Diorhabda carinulata) as a biological control agent. Following its initial release along the Colorado River near Moab, Utah in 2004, the beetle has successfully established and defoliated tamarisk across much of the upper Colorado River Basin. However, the spatial distribution and seasonal timing of defoliation are complex and difficult to quantify over large areas. To address this challenge, we tested and compared two remote sensing approaches to mapping tamarisk defoliation: Disturbance Index (DI) and a decision tree method called Random Forest (RF). Based on multitemporal Landsat 5 TM imagery for 2006-2010, changes in DI and defoliation probability from RF were calculated to detect tamarisk defoliation along the banks of Green, Colorado, Dolores and San Juan rivers within the Colorado Plateau area. Defoliation mapping accuracy was assessed based on field surveys partitioned into 10 km sections of river and on regions of interest created for continuous riparian vegetation. The DI method detected 3711 ha of defoliated area in 2007, 7350 ha in 2008, 10,457 ha in 2009 and 5898 ha in 2010. The RF method detected much smaller areas of defoliation but proved to have higher accuracy, as demonstrated by accuracy assessment and sensitivity analysis, with 784 ha in 2007, 960 ha in 2008, 934 ha in 2009, and 1008 ha in 2010. Results indicate that remote sensing approaches are likely to be useful for studying spatiotemporal patterns of tamarisk defoliation as the tamarisk leaf beetle spreads throughout the western United States.