Interpretive Summary: Grazing and Invasive Plants, Ecological Costs of the Status Quo
By: Lindsay Tretter
The beef cattle industry focuses largely on grazing land that animals have access to. Invasive annual grasses, such as cheat grass, become a problem when there is a significant amount of standing dead material left at the end of the grazing period. Cheat grass is not as prevalent in Asia as it is in the United States, most likely due to the grazing methods utilized in Asia. If the United States were to adapt land management similar to Asia, it could aid in the decrease of invasive grasses. In addition, this could also decrease the fire risk.
The study was conducted during the fall of 2006-2008 where beef cattle were allowed to graze, created an insignificant recurrence of cheat grass the next year. Supplements were given when needed to persuade the cattle from grazing less desirable grasses. There was a fence placed to divide the area of grazing and non-grazing. The area that had been grazed for all three years showed a decreased amount of cheat grass when compared to the non-grazing side. TS Ranch is utilizing ~10,000 acres to evaluate if cattle can be used to graze a fire break in a field. This is done by moving water and supplements to the area that needs to be grazed. While preliminary data shows promise, the research is still ongoing.
An additional study evaluated the effect of rain fall on cheat grass amounts. During a year following significant rainfall, increased cheat grass numbers have been observed. However, the following year, rainfall was low and due to the increased amount of cheat grass present, the size and frequency of fires was increased.
Fall grazing is used to help prevent invasive annual grasses. Additional benefits of fall grazing include: protecting critical habitats, and reducing the number of fires. Land management similar to Asia, also results in a reduced prevalence of invasive annual grasses. The main focus in the Western US has been on perennial grasses rather than the annual a mixture of annual and perennial. Adjustments need to be made to utilize mixed grasses, which will greatly aid in the problems created by annual invasive species