July 31, 2012

Fighting Cheatgrass with Fungus

Whoever can stop cheatgrass deserves a Nobel prize and the thanks of a grateful continent.  A fungus holds some promise.
“Cheatgrass is a very insidious kind of biotic virus,” said Stephen Pyne, a Western fire historian at Arizona State University. “It takes over and rewrites the operating system. Because it grows earlier, it can burn earlier,” then in its regrowth “drive off all the other competitors. That makes for a complete overthrow of the system.” 

Mike Styler, head of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said simply: “It’s changed the entire ecology of the West.” 

But the black fingers of death — Pyrenophora semeniperda — may help restoration ecologists like Dr. Meyer reclaim some beachheads in the vast swath of land already conquered by cheatgrass.
I have been seeing it a lot more around here lately, thanks to two drought years in a row, which just makes me sick to contemplate.


Peculiar said...

Up in the Frank Church Wilderness in Idaho, where it's a fairly recent arrival, you can see aprons of cheat grass covering a 15-foot swath downslope of the trails. Every years the swaths get bigger, of course. A solution would definitely merit a Nobel.

Chas S. Clifton said...

It always seems to start along trails and roads, from seeds spread by pack stock and hay haulers, I figure.