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Solutions Remain Elusive for Landowners Undergoing Cheatgrass Assault

July 23, 2018
people standing in a field
Dan Tekiela, UW Extension invasive plant ecologist, discusses the types of herbicides and research parameters involved in his cheatgrass research. (UW Photo)

Fearsome cheatgrass taking over land can generate enough horror to make one reach for silver bullets.

But there are no silver bullets for cheatgrass, University of Wyoming Extension specialist Dan Tekiela told those attending the July 11 cheatgrass management field day in Sybille Canyon.

More than 45 people attended the event in the relatively isolated Tom Thorne/Beth Williams Wildlife Habitat Management Area between Laramie and Wheatland. Attendees represented producers, government agencies and the herbicide industry.

With their pickups and SUVs parked near the herbicide test plots, attendees earlier had heard Tekiela discuss management options and the importance of managing the soil seed bank.

They saw results -- or lack thereof -- of herbicide trials in a heavily cheatgrass-infested area for which the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and state lands had treated more than a decade ago.

The cheatgrass shrugged off the earlier treatments and returned, and agency representatives wanted to see what alternatives could eradicate or, at least lessen, the cheatgrass.

Tekiela partnered with them on the project and wasn’t perplexed at the higher-than-expected turnout to the isolated area because cheatgrass isn’t selective -- everyone has a problem with it. Researchers across the nation are studying the invasive grass.

“It’s the poster child of invasion in the West,” he says. “People are scrambling for information, but we don’t have the silver bullet.”

There likely will never be a one-size-fits-all solution, but Tekiela had specific takeaway messages during the day. He fields lots of bioherbicide questions for cheatgrass control.

“If you Google bioherbicides and cheatgrass, the top 10 stories that may come up are popular press articles that say such-and-such new bioherbicide is great,” Tekiela says. “Then, the scientist in me looks and sees there is no research on this. The takeaway is to be a little bit skeptical and really seek out reliable resources, such as universities, on how to manage what you are trying to do.”

His test plots were examples of using research-based information. The test plots showed the effects of herbicides and bioherbicides targeted for cheatgrass control.

There can be other viable tools, such as integrated pest management techniques, he says.

people standing in a field watching a drone in the air
Chloe Mattilio, a UW doctoral student in plant sciences, demonstrates how the drone, flying a programmed route, is used for detecting invasive plants. (UW Photo)

Managing the seed bank was another takeaway message. Tekiela says giving the resident plant community a chance to repopulate and managing seed banks are his goals when confronting invasive plants.

Research has shown that, once a seed bank becomes established, the likelihood of eradicating cheatgrass or any other invasive plant species is unlikely. Controlling cheatgrass early before it becomes a problem is best.

“But people don’t respond to things until there is a problem and don’t know how to deal with it anymore,” Tekiela says.

Tekiela promotes the “Play, Clean, Go” recommendations, a movement whose partners include weed and pest districts, state and federal agencies and departments, and even school districts. The program urges removal of plant material from boots, pets and vehicles, and cleaning equipment before entering and leaving areas.

Tekiela cited a northern Colorado producer he had met with about leafy spurge spreading across that region. The producer told Tekiela he was advised years ago to clean his equipment before moving from location to location.

“He said things that were not there then are there now, and the only way they could have gotten there is because he moved them in his practices,” Tekiela says. “He devalued his land. That’s why prevention is so critical. That’s what really motivates me to push that message.”

Still, producers with thousands of acres of cheatgrass on rangelands are struggling to solve the already-established cheatgrass assault.

“We had people (at the field day) with less than five acres, and they have the problem, and there was one person who has thousands of acres,” he says. “I deal with people in that spectrum of land ownership day in and day out.”

The examples may seem different, but Tekiela believes there are similarities in the challenges and solutions.

“It’s not all herbicides,” he says. “I tried to convey the point that prevention is incredibly important, and I think everybody was responsive to that, from those with small acreages to huge ranches.”

For more information, call Steve Miller at (307) 766-6342 or email slmiller@uwyo.edu.


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