Idaho Launches the Cheatgrass Challenge
July 8, 2020
Read all about Idaho’s new effort to tackle cheatgrass across public and private lands.
The USDA-NRCS Working Lands for Wildlife and Sage Grouse Initiative are proud to help announce Idaho’s Cheatgrass Challenge. The Challenge provides a powerful example of how data from our Rangeland Analysis Platform can be used to map rangeland threats and implement a proactive strategy for addressing them.
The following USDA-NRCS-Idaho press release about the Cheatgrass Challenge is reposted here with permission. See the original press release here.
Mindi Rambo, Public Affairs Specialist, 208.378.5720
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and so does a collaborative effort to battle invasive annual grasses in Idaho.
In Idaho, a partnership of public and private agencies and organizations has undertaken an effort dubbed “The Cheatgrass Challenge.” The Challenge will start this summer with six projects in “core areas” where invasive annuals encroachment is low to moderate. The Challenge’s initial focus will be to protect currently healthy rangeland habitat and, secondly, to restore moderately infested habitat to its native perennial state where it is most cost effective and easiest to maintain. The Challenge strategy ultimately plans to build on those projects, pushing into moderately to highly infested areas of invasive grasses to “grow the core areas.”
Although several invasive annual grasses (including cheatgrass, ventenata and medusa head) are a threat to Idaho rangelands, cheatgrass in particular is a two-pronged economic threat. First, it has only minimal forage value and only for a short period, yet it outcompetes the native perennial grasses needed by livestock and wildlife. Second, it creates a vicious fire cycle: more cheatgrass promotes more wildfire, more wildfire promotes more cheatgrass. Cheatgrass doubles the risk of wildfire on a piece of land. Economically, Idaho cannot afford to ignore the challenge posed by invasive annual grasses.
“It’s important that we take this ‘all lands, all hands’ approach, because invasive annuals don’t care about property lines,” said Curtis Elke, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service State Conservationist for Idaho. “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.”
Those efforts are beginning at the local level. This spring, the Challenge partners worked with weed control boards, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, landowners, leaseholders and other non-profit entities to identify potential projects. Of the eight proposals submitted, Cheatgrass Challenge partners selected six for funding.
Cottonwood Basin – This multi-year juniper and cheatgrass treatment will impact 15,000 acres in the Burley area.
Crooked-Birch Creek – This project envisions improved livestock distribution and annual-grass treatment practices on approximately 16,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management, State and privately held lands in the Lemhi area.
Grassy Ridge/Sand Creek – This project will cover approximately 92,000 acres in the Sand Creek Area and the nearby Grassy Ridge Fire Rehabilitation zone in eastern Idaho. Practices employed will protect against potential wildfire threats and provide alternatives for wildlife habitat and grazing management.
Pioneer Arco Mountain – This project envisions herbicide treatment, range seeding and prescribed grazing distributed over a target area of 5,000 acres in the Arco area.
Reynolds Creek – A 7,500-acre project, the Reynolds Creek proposal includes Soda Fire rehabilitation on BLM, State and Private lands, Bruneau-Owyhee Sage-grouse Habitat Project juniper treatments as well juniper treatments on State lands in the project area.
Upper Birch – Lemhi Basin – The early detection of cheatgrass and rapid response efforts to eradicate it in the Lemhi and Upper Birch Creek watersheds is the focus of this proposed project. Four thousand acres will be inventoried, and herbicide treatments applied on 300 to 500 acres of private land and 200 acres of Federal lands.
Challenge partners believe that the projects selected for 2020 will leverage more than $750,000 of federal, state, and private matching funds. Combined, these projects will cover more than 140,000 acres and include 50 private landowners who are engaged in and committed to them.
“I am pleased that many of these projects build on previous work,” said John Ruhs, Idaho State Director for the Bureau of Land Management. “That way we are protecting those previous investments, and we will not have to come back in five years and redo them.”
The Cheatgrass Challenge will hopefully not remain simply an Idaho effort. The Western Governors Association’s Western Invasive Species Council (WISC) is closely watching what Idaho does. In addition, NRCS Wyoming is establishing its version of the Challenge and sharing technical assistance with NRCS Idaho. If the Cheatgrass Challenge’s efforts are successful, the partners hope our successes can be duplicated across state borders.
“I support this proactive and collaborative investment in fighting invasive annual grasses to promote healthy and working rangelands” think that this has the potential to not only take off, but do some real good across the lander landscape,” said Chris Swanson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Acting State Director for Idaho. “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.”
Cheatgrass Challenge partners are committing time, resources and personnel to help landowners, leaseholders and public land managers tackle this ever-growing threat to Idaho’s rangelands. In addition, NRCS Idaho has committed $800,000 in Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds to the Challenge and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has committed $400,000 with the potential for additional matching funds at a later point. Other partner funds may also be used for projects that qualify under those funds’ particular requirements.
The federal partners are the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The State of Idaho is represented by the Idaho Governor’s Office of Species Conservation (OSC), Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA), Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) and Idaho Department of Lands (IDL). Private partners include the Idaho Rangeland Conservation Partnership, the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), and Working Lands for Wildlife. The Western Governors’ Association (WGA) is a supporting partner.
To learn more about the Challenge and to download information on best management practices, visit www.id.nrcs.usda.gov and click on the Cheatgrass Challenge button.
The Sage Grouse Initiative is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life. This initiative is part of Working Lands For Wildlife, which is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.