"You could say that cheatgrass was the first Mid-East terrorist to hit U.S. soil," said Jay Davison to a group of about 40 spectators at a tour Wednesday of a test site of a new herbicide designed to control the invasive weed from the Middle East.
"It's our No. 1 enemy threat," echoed Ed Smith.
Both men are with the University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative Extension. The tour started at the Extension offices in Carson City, where Smith gave a short lecture on cheatgrass before showing a three-minute video of roaring, local wildfires. The fires, showed flames towering up to 50 feet racing across nearby Nevada rolling land, were enough to make those in the audience anxious to hear more about how combating cheatgrass can reduce the threat of wildfires.
At one point Smith showed a photo mosaic of the Carson City area with red blobs indicating where wildfires have raged. The red practically encircles the city.
Taking part in the study is the BASF company, maker of a herbicide called Plateau, which is designed to kill cheatgrass while not damaging perennials and annuals. Smith said that the test was a cooperative affair between the Extension Service, BASF, Western Nevada Community College (which donated the land for the test), Carson City and the Nevada Division of Forestry.
"In fact, we did the whole study without a dollar," said Smith.
From the extension office the group moved to the study site, off Foothill Road from Winnie Lane at the Wellington Cresecent subdivision. The study site is about 200 yards from the street, through sage and bitterbrush where a 100-foot strip fuel break had been created last year. Much of the shrub and grass had been removed, but cheatgrass has come back thickly.
The study created 16 blocks of land, 14 feet wide, marked off with four kinds of treatment.
• Four plots were sprayed with Plateau in November, then drill seeded with crested wheatgrass and thick-spike wheatgrass.
• Four were sprayed with Plateau but not drill seeded.
• Four were not sprayed with Plateau but were drill seeded.
• Four were not sprayed with Plateau or drill seeded.
Because of the drought the cheatgrass was stunted in growth and it was not easy to see the effect of the Plateau. But it was there. Swaths of the treated area was free even of the small cheatgrass clumps that grew in the unsprayed areas.
A burn area behind the Ford dealership off Curry Street was sprayed with Plateau in the fall and reseeded. An August 2003 wildfire swept a gentle hill.
It's easy to see the result from the bottom of the hill. It's almost as if a giant lawnmower had cut a wide swatch on the lower part of the hill. About halfway up the burned area, the loose soil was empty of all but the tiniest amount of cheatgrass. Where Plateau was not sprayed, cheatgrass was thick.
Davidson they are eager to see if Plateau would kill cheatgrass, an annual, but not kill bunch grasses, wildflowers, sagebrush and bitterbrush. "If it (Plateau) can do so we may have a real tool to help us kill cheatgrass and retain other beneficial vegetation."
While the results seemed clear to some, Smith and Davison will continue to evaluate.
"Cheatgrass not only is a great wildlife threat to our state, but threatens to eradicate many of our native plants, such as sage, our state flower," Smith said.
• Plateau fights Bromus tectorum, also known as cheatgrass.
• It has no grazing restrictions.
• Plateau targets many other noxious and invasive weeds, annual grass and other broadleaf weeds. It is for professional use only.
• Cheatgrass infests more than 100 million acres in the West.
• For information contact Ed Smith, natural resource specialist, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, at email@example.com or 782-9960.
Contact Sam Bauman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1236."