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Aaron Johnston

Dr. Patrick Wilson

NRS 235

11/30/2019

Assignment 4

The year is 1893. A Eurpean Shepherd makes his way over rolling hills, and down

towards the Colorado River for his livestock to drink. About 100 miles from the City of Denver,

this Sheperd settles down, and begins to transform the landscape. In the thick coat of one of his

sheep, lies a miniscule seed of the plant​ Bromus Tectorum,​ also known as Cheatgrass. As the

wind gusts down from the hills, it pulls loose this seed, and launches it into the air. Five minutes

later, this seed gently touches the ground, to begin a new stage of life, and perhaps a future

environmental crisis. This story is quite significant, because the cattle of which were originally

responsible for this plant’s invasion, may also be the key to limiting its growth.

Starting in the late 19th century, Cheatgrass, a plant native to Europe and Southwestern

Asia, appeared in the Western United States on the backs of cattle and in cattle feed. At the

time, the consequences of this species introduction was not known. According to the United

States Forest Service Cheatgrass Field Guide, the ecosystems most impacted by this invasive

species are Sagebrush Steppe, and Coniferous Forests of the Northwest United States.

Cheatgrass itself has the ability to reproduce and grow very rapidly, and thus competes with

various forms of native vegetation. On top of this, Cheatgrass is very fire prone, and has the

ability to recover from wildfires much faster than most native species. As a result, regions with

heavy Cheatgrass presence experience fire much more often. For ecosystems such as the

Sagebrush Steppe, frequent fires are very devastating, because fire is not a natural occurrence
in these areas. Cheatgrass also has the ability to thrive in many environments, generally

preferring areas receiving between 6 to 22 inches of precipitation yearly (USFS, 2014). The

combination of all these favorable characteristics, are leading to a transformation of ecosystems

in the Northwest. And so the question that must be asked is, what is the best way to solve this

crisis?

Today, the term agriculture encompases the cultivation of soils to produce crops and

raise animals. This in return provides food, wool, and other valuable products. With cattle

animals such as cows, sheep, and goats compromising a very large amount of the goods we

receive, it is of the utmost importance to find efficient ways of raising these animals. Cheatgrass

may be the answer in this respect, as it is a nutritious food source for cattle depending on the

time of year. According to BEEF Magazine, Cheatgrass contains around 18 percent protein in

Spring months when there is large amounts of precipitation present (Rose, 2019). In the

summer months when less precipitation is present, this content falls to about 3-5 percent

protein. As a result, cattle grazing on Cheatgrass many not be a solution year round, but for

about four months out of the year grazing on this species may be a healthier and beneficial

alternative to processed cattle feeds. So why is grazing on Cheatgrass not widespread across

the Wester United States? The reason most certainly has to do with politics. A long time cattle

farmer of Northern Nevada named Charlie Rose has much to say on this subject.

According to Rose, very little cattle grazing on Cheatgrass is done on public lands. With

this being said, the majority of the Northwestern United States happens to be public land owned

by the federal government. This is because federal land managers only allow small numbers of

cattle to graze in these regions. Due to this, grazing is mostly done on privately owned land. The

key to this problem is compromise. Allowing adequate cattle populations to graze on federal

land, but on the other hand not allowing so many cattle as to damage the ecosystem would be
the best outcome in this situation. Plenty of evidence also exists to prove that cattle grazing is

an effective control for Cheatgrass invasions. At Padlock Ranch on the border between

Northern Wyoming and Montana, managers use several methods to help control Cheatgrass

and other annual bromes. The main action of the control plan entails timed grazing, followed by

reseeding of native species. According to Don Luse, the resource manager of this facility, this

process helps to control Cheatgrass and opens up the territory for native specimen. These

methods have also improved the shape of the land, and has even made the land healthier than

when it was purchased by the ranch 25 years prior.

There is no denying Cheatgrass is a major environmental problem in the United States.

​ any decades ago, combined with little to no action regarding


Introduction of ​Bromus Tectorum m

control of the species has lead to ecosystem degradation across many fronts. However, of all

the methods proposed for the control of Cheatgrass such as herbicides and prescribed burns,

controlled and timed grazing is the most efficient in terms of cost, time, and ecosystem health.

Given that the processes of controlled grazing has been done before on a small scale by

individual farmers, there is evidence enough to prove that cattle grazing on Cheatgrass works,

and is highly effective. For this reason, federal and private lands should be opened up to

controlled grazing methods, as it would be the best possible solution for cattle farmers, native

species, the Federal Government, and American Citizens.


References

Peck , C. (2010, March 1). Beating the cheater offers offers ways to control Cheatgrass in

grazing pastures and on range. Retrieved December 7, 2019, from

https://www.beefmagazine.com/pasture-range/control-cheatgrass-in-grazing-pastures-03

01​.

Evans , C. (2014, September). Field Guide for managing Cheatgrass in the Southwest.

Retrieved December 7, 2019, from

https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5410110.pdf.

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