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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Reno, Nevada » Great Basin Rangelands Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #411904

Research Project: Management and Restoration of Rangeland Ecosystems

Location: Great Basin Rangelands Research

Title: Cheatgrass control and seeding prior to herbicides

item Clements, Darin - Charlie
item YOUNG, JAMES - Retired ARS Employee
item Harmon, Daniel - Dan

Submitted to: The Progressive Rancher
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/18/2024
Publication Date: 2/5/2024
Citation: Clements, D.D., Young, J.A., Harmon, D.N. 2024. Cheatgrass control and seeding prior to herbicides. The Progressive Rancher. 24(2):30-32.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: By the late 1800s it was apparent that there was a need to restore overgrazed rangelands. The effort to restore overgrazed rangelands, especially Great Basin rangelands, did not get receive much attention until the mid-1900s, so why did it take half a century to attempt rangeland seedings to restore Great Basin rangelands. Four major problems hindered the development of seeding technology; 1) the leading conservation agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, believed that rangelands could be restored through management without seeding, 2) the equipment necessary to control competing woody vegetation and to seed degraded big sagebrush rangelands was not available, 3) early seeding efforts on rangelands, which largely had been conducted by the Forest Service, had almost entirely been perceived as failures, and 4) it took a long time for the majority of ranchers, and even longer for politicians, to conceive that something was wrong with the western range. The basic problem that stifled restoration of big sagebrush rangelands in the Great Basin was the overabundance of big sagebrush. Range managers faced the daunting task of removing tons of woody material from each acre to make room for restoration seedings, which was exacerbated by the thousands of acres that needed restoration. One of the major problems that faced range managers, was that these overgrazed rangelands, prior to cheatgrass explosions, simply did not have enough fine fuels to carry fire through these sagebrush rangelands as suggested by Bennion. The droughts and the economic upheaval of the 1930’s furnished the catalysts for change. The northern Great Plains were almost destroyed by these droughts, erosion was significant and had tremendous impact on public opinion concerning conservation of natural resources which resulted in the formation of the U.S Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service (SCS) (now the Natural Resource Conservation Service). The conservation practice that the SCS introduced included plant material centers that produced plants and seeds for use in conservation plantings. This was followed up President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal which established agencies that provided manpower for conservation projects. The new Civilian Conservation Corps provided young men to fight wildfires, build check dams and access roads, and attempt restoration seedings. One of the first perennial grasses to be collected and developed by the SCS plant material centers was crested wheatgrass, a perennial grass imported from Russia. The first known range seedings of crested wheatgrass in the Intermountain Area occurred in 1932 near American Falls, Idaho, and on the USDA Sheep Experiment Station near Debois, Idaho. The stand of crested wheatgrass on the Sheep Experiment Station was moderately grazed after 30 years was still producing more than one-ton of air-dried forage per acre. The success of these early crested wheatgrass seedings increased the confidence of range managers to be successful in establishing perennial grasses on degraded rangelands. By the late 1930s and early 1940s researchers established nursery trials with native and introduced plant materials throughout the Intermountain Area and started the search for equipment that could be used to convert degraded big sagebrush sites to perennial grasses. These early scientists instigated the Interagency Range Seeding Equipment Committee to develop range weed control and seeding equipment. Early University Nevada Reno Researcher, Joe Robertson, was tired of this wheatland disk plow breaking down every day during his research in northeastern Nevada and therefor imported what was described as a “stump-jump plow” from Australia, redesigned it to meet the specific needs of western rangelands and was then manufactured by Interagency Rangeland Seeding Equipment Committee, now famously know