BLM & Partners Unite to Battle Weeds

BLM Wind River/Bighorn Basin District

Alien Invaders

BLM Weed and Pest Coordinator C.J. Grimes sprays houndstongue, a state-listed noxious weed.
BLM Weed and Pest Coordinator 
C.J. Grimes sprays houndstongue, a 
state-listed noxious weed.

The words alien invaders may conjure up images of UFOs and unfamiliar life forms from far away galaxies. While it may seem far-fetched, aliens have invaded the earth. But instead of green extraterrestrials from other planets, these green invaders include invasive weeds like houndstongue, whitetop, Russian and spotted knapweeds, Canada and musk thistle, salt cedar and Russian olive. Unfortunately, these invaders do not come in peace. In fact, tens of millions of acres of once healthy, productive rangelands, forestlands and riparian areas have been overrun by noxious or invasive weeds in the western states.

Invasive plants are a problem because they destroy wildlife habitat, reduce plant and animal diversity, and cost millions of dollars in treatment and loss of productivity to private land owners. Some weeds are poisonous to livestock and others create a wildfire hazard.

Healthy rangelands support sustainable native plant communities that can respond to natural disturbances like wildfire. But if non-native plants move into an area and there’s a wildfire, they will take advantage of that disturbance and establish themselves much more quickly in the burned area than the native plants can.

Non-native annual grasses such as cheatgrass and red brome can flourish immediately after wildfires, serving to increase the number and intensity of future fires because of their fine fuel nature, thus paving the way for invasive grasses to spread even further.

“The cheatgrass that grew during our wet spring is turning red and curing, so it’s easy to recognize,” said Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Invasive Weeds Coordinator C.J. Grimes. “However, by this time it has already produced seeds and herbicide treatment won’t have any effect. The dry grass poses a fire risk, so mowing and bagging it or pulling it from around buildings is the best way to protect your home.”

One herbicide treatment that is applicable for cheatgrass is a pre-emergent application of Plateau (imazapic) and the best time to treat it is in late summer or early fall before late season rains cause seeds to germinate. The chemical should be applied by a licensed applicator because mixing needs to be very precise.

The Battle for the Basin

A Washakie County Weed and Pest backpack spray crew treats weeds on public lands along the north fork of Otter Creek.
A Washakie County Weed and Pest backpack spray crew treats weeds on 
public lands along the north fork of 
Otter Creek.

If not eradicated or controlled, invasive weeds will continue to jeopardize the health of public lands and constrain the many activities that occur on public lands. It’s a big job and the BLM can’t do it alone. The more people fighting invasive weeds the better, so BLM Wyoming has united with state, federal and local partners to reduce the spread of weeds. Emphasis will be placed on early detection of, and rapid response to, new invasions in order to reduce the need for larger, more expensive treatments later on.

For many years in the Bighorn Basin, the BLM has maintained assistance agreements with Big Horn, Hot Springs, Park and Washakie counties. The BLM provides funding so that the county weed and pest (W&P) districts can perform weed control work on public lands. “The approach works well because, within a particular area, W&P can treat weeds continuously without starting and stopping as land ownership changes,” Grimes said.

Coordinated Resource Management groups (CRMs) have also taken up the fight. CRMs in the Bighorn Basin are made up of private landowners and state and federal agencies who actively work together toward a common goal: the eradication of Russian olive, salt cedar and other noxious weeds, while restoring native vegetation for wildlife and livestock and improving water quality. These special partnerships receive funding from federal and state grants. Bighorn Basin CRMs include Shell Valley CRM in Big Horn County, Kirby Creek CRM in Hot Springs County and Cottonwood Creek CRM in Washakie and Hot Springs counties.

One of the BLM's highest priorities is to promote ecosystem health. Prevention, control and eventual eradication of these alien invaders with partners like county weed and pest agencies and private landowners is key to reaching this goal.

For more information, please contact C.J. Grimes at 307-347-5100 or visit the BLM’s weeds and pests webpage at: www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/programs/weeds_pests.html.