MANAGING “CHEATGRASS” AND OTHER INVASIVE GRASSES
This video was produced from a scientific presentation during the January 15 Wildlife Professionals meeting held during the Wild Sheep Foundation’s 2020 Sheep Show® convention in Reno, Nevada. In this video Stuart Jennings introduces a new and exciting enhanced soil fertility technology that can be used to manage or minimize “cheatgrass” and other annual grass infestations. In addition to mitigating cheatgrass, this method restores key soil nutrients that enhance growth of perennial grass species, improves habitat for wild sheep and other wildlife species and is important to agriculture. Stuart, a geologist, hunter and wild sheep conservation advocate, developed this method from years of experience rehabilitating mine waste and other degraded sites using soil remediation techniques.
In 2018, Stuart approached the Montana Wild Sheep Foundation (MTWSF) with his new technology. MTWSF has worked with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) on many habitat projects throughout Montana. MTWSF, working collaboratively with FWP, funded Stuart to establish test plots using his approach on multiple “cheatgrass” sites on Wild Horse Island State Park (WHI) with varying amounts of annual grasses.
Wild Horse Island is 2,163 acres, a unit of Montana State Parks in Montana’s Flathead Lake, and is located within the boundaries of the Flathead Reservation of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. It is home to a world-renowned population of bighorn sheep and, unfortunately, an increasing invasive annual grass infestation. Since 1954, WHI has provided over 560 sheep in 32 different transplants and augmentations in Montana and Oregon, as well as sheep captured and sent to Washington State University for research purposes. WHI also produced the new World Record bighorn ram in 2016. Results from WHI cheatgrass test plots are presented in the video. Results from WHI and other places have shown Stuart’s method to be the most promising treatment that has been developed to date to manage and eliminate cheatgrass.
Why is this important? Cheatgrass is widespread throughout western North America and is increasing, negatively impacting millions of acres of wildlife habitat and native rangeland.
Like most vegetation treatments, synthetic herbicides may be useful in controlling invasive species, but often result in impacts to non-target native plant species and typically require annual application. Stuart’s non-herbicidal approach enhances native perennials using unique formulations of naturally-occurring mineral fertilizers, allowing native plants to compete favorably with invasives using one-time treatments. These treatments do not harm the native plant seed bank in the soil, allowing for accelerated natural restoration of native plant communities following treatment.
During this project it became apparent that Montana State Parks was not generating enough revenue to manage habitat on State Parks, including WHI. To help address this funding need, the Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF) made replicas of the new World Record pick-up skull from WHI to sell on WSF Chapter and Affiliate auctions. Through 16 event auctions conducted by Montana WSF, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society, Utah WSF, California WSF, Washington WSF, Eastern WSF, Midwest WSF, Iowa FNAWS, Alaska WSF, Oregon FNAWS, Idaho WSF, Wyoming WSF, Norther Nevada SCI, Wild Sheep Society of British Columbia and WSF Alberta $36,205 was raised and granted to the Montana State Parks Foundation for habitat management, education and maintenance on WHI.
Although this is a Montana-made project, it will be of tremendous benefit across the West or anywhere cheatgrass is degrading ecosystem health and contributing to worsening rangeland fires. MTWSF and WSF intend to therefore share this breakthrough with other states, provinces, Federal Agencies, agricultural producers, and other resource managers.
Please don’t hesitate to contact Stuart Jennings, MTWSF and/or WSF with any questions at:
Stuart Jennings, President
Kurt Alt, Conservation Director, Montana and International Programs
Wild Sheep Foundation & Montana Wild Sheep Foundation