The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) released a new report that provides a comprehensive assessment of fire and invasive grass management options aimed at conserving sagebrush country — and the agriculture, recreation, and wildlife that depend on intact western rangeland.
This 58-page report says invasive plants on nearly 160,000 square miles of public and private lands have reached enormous levels and are spreading.
That could mean more mega-wildfires that have already destroyed vast areas of sagebrush country that support 350 species of wildlife, including the imperiled sage grouse.
Examples of invasive annual grasses are cheatgrass and medusahead, both of which crowd out native plants, diminish water cycles and soil health, and reduce forage for livestock.
According to the report, most invasive weed management programs tackle less than 10 percent of the infested areas while the annual rate at which the invasive plants spread is 15 to 35 percent.
The top problem identified in the report is the limited ability at all levels of government to prevent invasive plants such as fire-prone cheatgrass from spreading and displacing native plants.
The report, titled “Wildfire and Invasive Plant Species in the Sagebrush Biome: Challenges that Hinder Current and Future Management and Protection – A Gap Report Update,” was produced by a multi-agency Wildfire and Invasive Species Working Group. It includes an overview of remaining work to be accomplished, with recommendations for actions to improve the conservation and management of the sagebrush biome.
Sagebrush country supports cattle ranching, recreation, and a host of wildlife. Photo: Jesse Bussard
The report builds on work published in 2013 that summarized the policy, fiscal, and science challenges that land managers have encountered in conserving sagebrush, especially regarding control and reduction of the invasive annual grass/fire cycle.
“The Gap Report Update has something for every level, public and private, to consider helping address the fire and invasive threat,” said Virgil Moore, Director of Idaho Department of Fish and Game and director liaison of WAFWA’s Sagebrush Initiative.
“It will take a broad-based coalition working together to ensure healthy sagebrush ecosystems are available for generations to come,” says Virgil Moore.
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.