Important cheatgrass research coming out of UNR

Published: May. 24, 2022 at 3:52 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Wildland fires here in Nevada are nothing new. Each season it is just a matter of how many acres the fires will consume.

While not the cause of the fires, an invasive species called cheatgrass helps the fire burn. Dried out by early summer, some experts say it’s as good as gasoline on a blaze.

UNR researchers say they’ve found a way to prevent the unencumbered growth of cheatgrass. Barry Perryman Ph.D. is chairman of the UNR Department on Agriculture Veterinary Range Science. He says his research team traveled across the world to get more information on cheatgrass.

“Trips over to central Asia, particularly Turkmenistan, and the northwest province in China Xinjiang Province in China, of course this is like the ancestral home of cheatgrass,” he says. “But it’s not an issue for them over there,” he adds.

Professor Perryman would find that’s because animals who graze on the cheatgrass do so in the spring when it comes up, and later in the fall when the cheatgrass is dried out.

This prevents a buildup of cheatgrass, which will inevitably shoot up again in the springtime.

In their tests on ranges here in Nevada and Oregon, Professor Perryman says within three years a change in grazing patterns shows the cheatgrass is not as predominate as it once was.

In pictures and video provided to us, one side of a fence where the tests were done, cheatgrass not grazed on in the fall, continues to dominate the landscape later the next spring.

When cheatgrass is consumed in the later months, there is less cheat grass the following spring. Instead, other grasses are allowed to grow.

But there’s something more about these other perennial grasses.

“We completely change those fuel characteristics, we spread the fuel out,” says Perryman. “So, it is not as consistent across the landscape. And we also change the moisture content of that fuel. And just by changing the moisture content of the fuel content by 2% from 10% to 12% changes the fire dynamics incredibly,” he says.

While this research took three years to accomplish, and gained national recognition, experts say it will take longer than that to implement due to federal regulations, grazing routines, and environmental groups.

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