Cheatgrass fueled wildfires are a result of not only the current year's phytomass production, but production from past years as well. Fuel accumulation over several years optimizes fuel amounts and continuity. Within the Intermountain region, grass biomass decomposes slowly and with little or no grazing activity, the cheatgrass in any given year may represent two or more production cycles. It appears that two years of fuel accumulation is optimal for grassland fires in the Intermountain West.
Reducing cheatgrass fuels using spring cattle grazing techniques is not practical on scales large enough to be effective. It is difficult to concentrate animals during spring for long enough periods of time to be of any use. However, cattle can be concentrated on cheatgrass during the fall, using supplementation as a tool. Reducing the amount of cheatgrass fuel carryover may effectively reduce the amount of total fuel available during the next years’ fire season.
If several hundred pounds per acre of cheatgrass can be removed during the fall, through cattle grazing, that is several hundred pounds that will not be added to the next year fuel load. We will also investigate further reducing the fuel load using spring sheep grazing, following fall cattle grazing. The concentrated effort should have not only short-term benefits, but should reduce cheatgrass competition to a point where perennial species can increase. We will also investigate the effect of these grazing treatments on the perennial plants. We will also assess animal condition and performance in order to make sure there will be no detrimental effect on the grazing animals utilizing fall season cheatgrass as the primary forage base.
B.S. Agronomy, 1978, Abilene Christian Univ.
M.S. Rangeland Ecology, 1993, Univ. of Wyoming, Laramie
Ph.D. Rangeland Ecology, 1996, Univ. of Wyoming, Laramie