Public and private agencies and organizations are teaming up to tackle invasive annual grasses on federal, state and private land in Idaho, launching the Cheatgrass Challenge spearheaded by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The initial focus is to protect currently healthy rangeland habitat and restore low to moderately infested lands to their native perennial state.
The ultimate strategy is to build on those projects on moderately to highly infested areas.
This spring, Challenge partners worked with local weed control boards, soil and water conservation districts, landowners, leaseholders and nonprofits to identify potential projects and selected six for funding.
Combined, the six projects will cover more than 140,000 acres and include 50 private landowners. In total, the projects are expected to leverage more than $750,000 of federal, state and private matching funds, NRCS Idaho stated in a press release on Monday.
Cheatgrass is the main target of the Challenge because it has only minimal forage value, outcompetes native perennial grasses and creates a vicious fire cycle.
Cheatgrass is definitely a detriment to rangelands and the cattle industry, which needs healthy rangelands to produce good beef, Cameron Mulroney, executive vice president of Idaho Cattle Association, told Capital Press.
The biggest detriment is it continues the fire regime, burning quickly and germinating earlier than perennial grasses to expand encroachment, he said.
The real value of the project is if it can show perennial grasses can be restored, it can be applied more widely in the future, he said.
“That would be a huge benefit of this program,” he said.
In announcing the Challenge, Curtis Elke, NRCS state conservationist for Idaho, said it’s important to take an “all land, all hands” approach against invasive annuals.
“If we don’t work to turn the tide against them, they will consume our rangeland and significantly impact an important sector of the economy,” he said.
The first six projects involve the Cottonwood Basin in the Burley area; Crooked-Birch Creek, Lemhi area; Grassy Ridge-Sand Creek, Sand Creek area; Pioneer Arco Mountain, Arco area; Reynolds Creek, Owyhee area; and Upper Birch, Lemhi area.
John Ruhs, BLM Idaho state director, said he’s pleased many of the projects build on previous work.
“That way we are protecting those previous investments, and we will not have to come back in five years and redo them,” he said.
Chris Swanson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acting state director for Idaho, said the collaborative effort has the potential to not only take off, but do some real good across the larger landscape.
“Being able to share what works under different conditions with other states will enable all of us to work together to preserve and restore the West’s native rangelands,” he said.
NRCS Wyoming is establishing a version of the Challenge and sharing technical assistance with NRCS Idaho. The Western Governors Association is a supporting partner of the Challenge.
Other partners include U.S. Forest Service, Idaho Governor’s Office of Species Conservation, Idaho State Department of Agriculture, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Idaho Department of Lands, Idaho Rangeland Conservation Partnership, Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Working Lands for Wildlife.
To learn more about the Challenge, visit www.id.nrcs.usda.gov.