By Published On: March 14, 2022

From the Inside Out: Local Cheatgrass Treatment Aids in Landscape-Scale Resiliency

“Proactive, not Reactive.”

This is the mantra of partners in Lemhi and Custer County, Idaho who are working to address cheatgrass and other non-native plants in sagebrush rangelands. These remote central Idaho counties contain some of the most intact, high-quality sagebrush habitat remaining in the state, often referred to as “core” habitat. Central Idaho’s core sagebrush ecosystem ensures healthy habitat for wildlife and provides ranchers the forage needed to sustainably graze livestock.

Defending the core and growing the core is a goal widely adopted by those working in sagebrush country. By targeting resources towards the treatment and management of core habitat, partners can protect the best of the best rangelands from non-native annual grass invasion while getting the biggest return on investment of both time and money.

To effectively treat cheatgrass across an entire landscape, partners must be able to work across property lines. This is where groups like the Mule Deer Foundation lean in and provide much needed capacity to get projects done in creative ways. By aggressively treating the seed source on private and state lands, core habitat that isn’t accessible to land management agencies like the Bureau of Land Management or Forest Service, time and money can be saved down the road by ensuring that small pockets of cheatgrass don’t remain after larger-scale treatments on public land.

“I like to think of it as removing the donut holes that have the potential to spread and put surrounding intact habitat at risk,” said Jessie Shallow, a partner biologist with the Mule Deer Foundation.

Shallow is currently leading efforts to survey and treat cheatgrass in several priority areas in Lemhi County. On a bright autumn morning she pulled a handful of stakes and a mallet from the bed of an Idaho Department of Fish and Game pickup truck and strode into the sagebrush on a section of state land.

“Things look really good, but I remember there being a small patch of cheatgrass out here. That’s what I’m looking for right now,” she said.

After a short walk and little cheatgrass to show for it, she circled back and chose a spot near the dirt road where several square meters of cheatgrass lay dormant, hammering a stake into the nearly frozen ground. She took several pictures and then moved on. Over the next year, she will return to this location to compare the rate of cheatgrass spread and determine how well targeted aerial treatments applied to this area in 2021 were working.

She repeated this process once more at a different location before crossing through a barbed wire fence onto a large parcel of private land. The difference in plant communities on the private land versus the adjacent state land was drastic. Across a few hundred acres lay a blanket of cheatgrass. This large pasture filled with cheatgrass was one of Shallow’s main treatment objectives and it provides a great example how projects like this can extend across fence lines and land ownerships.

Read more about Shallow’s work over at Partners in the Sage.