Location: Great Basin Rangelands ResearchTitle: Cheatgrass and grazing Nevada rangelands
Submitted to: The Progressive Rancher
Publication Type: Trade Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/20/2019
Publication Date: 3/4/2019
Citation: Young, J.A., Clements, D.D., Harmon, D.N. 2019. Cheatgrass and grazing Nevada rangelands. The Progressive Rancher. 19(3):29-30.
Technical Abstract: In 1916 Charles Fleming joined the staff of the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station as Chief of the Department of Range Management and later became Director of the Experiment Station in 1946. In the Experiment Station 1945-1946 Annual Report, Fleming wrote “The presence of annual grasses creates a controversy between livestock men and grazing administrators involving the following question: Do annual grasses indicate overgrazing? Would the annual grasses be largely absent from Nevada ranges if there had been no grazing? Should the carrying capacity of a range predominantly annual be based upon the perennials? Has anyone a practical method by which annuals can be replaced and perennials reestablished in a density which would permit saying that the range had been brought back to its pioneer carrying capacity? Is it reasonable to look at a range and if annuals predominate say the range is overstocked and a reduction in livestock numbers should be made ? ... And if the answers are largely negative, will we not then have to live with the annuals and learn to make the most profitable use of them?” Fleming was truly a pioneer in range management. More than 70 years later, Fleming's contentions are still a contoversy. As this controversy continues, rangelands of the Intermountain West are burning at significant levels. What Would Fleming Say About Nevada Rangelands Today? It is safe to say Fleming would be appalled. Appalled because the questions he asked in 1946 are still in the debate-no action stage. Appalled because the scale and magnitude of the conversion of big and low sagebrush and salt desert plant communities from native species to exotic annual dominance is so overwhelming. In the mid-1960s, the brilliant and flamboyant plant physiologist Fritz Went stated that the problem with cheatgrass dominance of Nevada rangelands was that the communities are so open to invasion. At the time of his statement, Joe Robertson had already shown through analysis in field experiments that cheatgrass closed communities to the recruitment of seedlings of perennial species. Fritz Went envisioned that other exotic annual species could successfully invade cheatgrass communities. Bur buttercup, medusahead, a second species of Russian thistle, numerous species of mustard, annual kochia, annual wheatgrass, and halogeton have shown the validity of Went's prediction. He carried it a step farther by predicting that cheatgrass, for all its landscape-level dominance, was a transitory issue and its replacement species would make cheatgrass appear as a highly desirable forage species. The question for 21st century range scientists, managers, and any citizen concerned with environmental quality, is how we manage cheatgrass-dominated ranges to maintain cheatgrass dominance if society is not willing to spend the necessary funds for research and development and implementation to convert the ranges back to a perennial grass dominance.