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Home arrow The Daily Dirt arrow Wednesday What's New: Cheatgrass Fuels Wildfires
Wednesday What's New: Cheatgrass Fuels Wildfires Print E-mail
Written by Heleigh Bostwick    Wednesday, 03 August 2016

Cheatgrass or downy brome (Bromus tectorum), is an invasive species native to the Mediterranean. Brought to the US in the late 19th century, it is now found in every state including Alaska and Hawaii. It is a particularly big problem in the west where it has invaded sagebrush and other native habitats--habitats that consist of plants that are fire resistant or have evolved to co-exist or reproduce with fire events.

Cheatgrass is believed to be one of the primary causes of wildfires that have been ravaging the western states including Idaho and Utah where the largest fires in 97 years and in the history of the state, respectively have recently burned out of control. As a result, The governors of Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming have declared war on cheatgrass, which has taken over between 25 million and 100 million acres of sagebrush in the Great Basin. In addition, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) estimates that cheatgrass invades 4,000 acres of new terrain a day.

Authorities are attacking the problem in several ways; through herbicides, reseeding burned areas with native and benign non-native plants, targeted grazing in spring when the plant is green to reduce it's occurrence later in the season, and a fungus called "black fingers of death" that affects seed heads, killing the seeds.

Photo source: Chris Evans, River to River CWMA, Bugwood.org