RENO -- Researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno, are teaming up with other experts to study ways to control cheatgrass on western rangelands.
"If we don't get a handle on it, it will be an ecological disaster," said UNR environmental and resource science professor Robert Nowak.
Nowak received a $2.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study the problem and possible solutions.
Cheatgrass arrived in the United States in the early 19th century. It sprouts early in the spring but quickly dries out, providing explosive tinder for wildfires in the arid West.
After a fire, it's the first vegetation to grow back, perpetuating a cycle of grow-and-burn, which destroys prime grazing and wildlife habitat throughout the Great Basin.
Nowak will be working with researchers from Oregon State and Utah State universities and various federal agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, Geological Survey, Department of Agriculture and Bureau of Land Management.
One part of the study will involve planting 25 native species at eight different sites around the Great Basin.
Nowak said scientists hope to determine if the spread of cheatgrass can be stemmed by planting a combination of shallow and deep-rooted native plants to compete with the invasive weed.
Using a large-scale restoration site, they will examine whether the spread of cheatgrass seed can be controlled with time-managed grazing and burning.
"The thought behind this is that what is occurring on a small plot is influenced by the surrounding area," he said. "Therefore it is essential to monitor a larger plot of land."
The overall goal of the study,Nowak said, is to find cost effective ways to manage invasive weeds.