Weed specialist invites ranchers to compete in cheatgrass challenge
February 18, 2015
University of Wyoming scientists hope marrying "Top Chef" with "The Amazing Race" and "The Biggest Loser" will be a win in the struggle against cheatgrass in Wyoming.
UW Extension weed specialist Brian Mealor is putting out a casting call for teams to enter his Wyoming Restoration Challenge. Teams will create their menus for success during a three-year contest to rid land near Lingle of the most cheatgrass and restore the pasture into a more productive and diverse plant community.
Mealor, an assistant professor in the Department of Plant Sciences, has spent years traveling the state and seeing sites invaded by weeds. Traditional research calls for a certain protocol – demonstration plots and research plots. During those trips across the state, he's seen many people doing their own kinds of cheatgrass management.
"My thought was, let's open it up to see if we can put different approaches head-to-head in a fun, competitive environment and see how they do instead of just researchers doing stuff," said Mealor, in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. "Let's have other people involved and make it a fun, educational program at the same time. It's a different model for doing extension."
Each team will be assigned a half-acre plot of pasture at the UW James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center near Lingle. Pre-competition vegetation and soil data will be collected to establish a baseline of the ecological condition of each plot.
Each team will develop and implement a plan to meet the land management goals specified for each site, said Mealor. The $300 entry fee pays for use of the SAREC research property, awards or prizes and support for documenting the challenge through videos and visiting the plots.
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The SAREC pasture had been used for fall gathering and spring calving prior to UW acquiring the property. "It had repeated heavy use year after year," said Mealor.
That led to deterioration of the plant community that normally would be there. SAREC officials had kept in mind using the land, between the SAREC headquarters and the North Platte River, as a research area.
Last summer, Mealor was taking care of animals at SAREC so students would get a break and return to the Laramie campus.
"It was one of those late evenings, and I was standing watching the sheep graze and thought that would be cool place to do the challenge," he recalled. "The people at SAREC are pretty committed to making this thing work."
Mealor gets asked a lot about cheatgrass, and cheatgrass presentations at farm and ranch shows usually draw an audience.
The years of drought and necessary grazing may have caused a burst in cheatgrass. That degraded the rangeland and then affected sage-grouse habitat.
"Invasive annual grasses rank as a primary threat to sage-grouse habitat," said Mealor. "As sage-grouse goes, so goes everything when it comes to rangeland these days."
Mealor plans to make the cheatgrass challenge very public through blogging, videos, a Facebook page and by public visits to the sites. Search Facebook for Wyoming Restoration Challenge. More information about the challenge is at http://weedcontrolfreaks.com/. March 6 is the registration deadline.
–University of Wyoming