(Laramie, Wyo.) – Cheatgrass is short, but the University of Wyoming is knee-deep in research projects in the battle against this invasive species.
“Cheatgrass Management Handbook: Managing an invasive annual grass in the Rocky Mountain Region” is the latest product from The Rocky Mountain Cheatgrass Project – a partnership between the University of Wyoming and Colorado State University.
Cheatgrass (downy brome) is a common factor connecting a number of resource concerns for producers and natural resource managers from sage grouse habitat to wildfire devastation.
“It’s (the handbook) combining some ecological work and some economic analysis to try to determine the best management practices for cheatgrass management in both states,” according to Brian Mealor, UW Extension weed specialist.
Mealor said cheatgrass research has been ongoing since the 1940s especially in the Great Basin area where it’s been a significant issue for a longer time. He’s been involved in UW’s efforts since hired in 2009, and said questions about cheatgrass management are predominant from around the state.
“The past several years, it seems like across the state there’s been a more concerted effort to do more cheatgrass work,” said Mealor, an assistant professor in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “Last year, we reinitiated what is called the Wyoming Cheatgrass Task Force.”
The task force has statewide representatives from UW, the Wyoming Weed and Pest Council, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts and Wyoming State Forestry Division. The Bureau of Land Management is the organizing agency.
Existing in the late ’90s and early 2000s then lapsing, the task force has been rejuvenated. The partners are equipped with research, outreach opportunities and a cooperative approach.
“Our group feels like because cheatgrass is so widespread, we need to be strategic in how weapproach the problem,” explained Mealor. “Understanding areas of better recovery potential and areas that can be protected from cheatgrass infestation probably makes more sense than just doing these opportunistic small plot studies and small plot trials.”
To better understand which areas of Wyoming should be treated, the university is the lead research facilitator in a project to prioritize areas. Current cheatgrass data includes only if it is or is not present instead of severity and complete distribution.
“What we hope to do is be able to increase that resolution of data,” Mealor said. He stressed the importance of small local projects but also the significance of the big picture. “If we can tie those local projects together in a way that makes more sense from a habitat standpoint, and an agricultural standpoint and a conservation standpoint, then we think we’ll be better off.”
Mealor and graduate student Cara Noseworthy developed a rapid assessment tool to help tie local expertise to the larger picture and increase data magnitude. The tool began as information collecting using paper forms and is being converted to a smartphone application that will help record the severity of cheatgrass infestations and their locations.
The app, when ready next spring, will require registration with a login and password.
“You can mark a GPS point with a smartphone and click different categories. Then, it automatically feeds into one big data base, and we can draw that data down,” explained Mealor. “(Users will) get instructions on how to do it. They’ll get some reference pictures for different cover categories and then every time they upload data we’ll see it when it comes in.”
Mealor said spring is the easiest time for people to map cheatgrass because of its purple color when most other grasses are green. He encouraged anyone to participate in the mapping using the smartphone app.
“This entire cheatgrass program really has originated from clientele,” Mealor said. “We talk a lot about producer-driven research and state driven priorities – that’s how this whole program started because that’s what people wanted us to do.”
The handbook, B-1246, is available for free download by going to www.uwyo.edu/ces and clicking on Publications on the left-hand side of the page. Type the bulletin title or number in the search field. Printed bulletins are available for $10. Click on the bulletin title and follow the prompts under Hard CopyPrice.