Nevada researchers studying herbicides in hopes of reducing wildfire fuels

Nevada researchers studying herbicides in hopes of reducing wildfire fuels
Paul Meiman and Brad Schultz are researching the effects of two herbicides for cheatgrass to determine their effects on other plant communities, in hopes of providing land managers with effective strategies for reducing wildfire fuels. Photo by Paul Meiman.

RENO–Researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno plan to study the effects of two herbicides that are known to reduce cheatgrass—a fine wildfire fuel that’s present throughout the West. The scientists are looking at the costs versus benefits of the use of Plateau and Rejuvra products to provide more information to land managers working to reduce fire risk.

Paul Meiman, an associate professor in the university’s College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources, is working on the project with Brad Schultz, also a professor and an Extension educator in Humboldt County. The pair are looking at the effects the herbicides have on more desirable plants that often grow alongside cheatgrass, including native bunchgrasses and forbs or wildflowers.

“Cheatgrass invasion is one of the biggest challenges facing natural resource management and managers in the West right now, especially in our part of Nevada,” Meiman said. “Even if we see some unwanted effects from the herbicides with this study, they may be outweighed by the opportunity to break the cycle of recurring fires that has converted thousands upon thousands of acres of rangeland to plant communities dominated by cheatgrass.

“These are not easy decisions. Our hope is to provide additional information to landowners and land managers about tools available to manage cheatgrass,” he added.

The experts said neither herbicide negatively affects established sagebrush plants, but their impacts on other plants is less definitive. Maintaining plants other than cheatgrass, and even allowing them to flourish without interference from the cheatgrass, is the preference. They’re also looking at whether the herbicides can reduce cheatgrass harbored underneath sagebrush plants.

Meiman and Schultz will begin their work in the coming weeks using 20- to 40-acre test plots on land provided by Nevada Gold Mines. They’ll use aerial application to apply either Plateau, Rejuvra, or a combination of both to determine the best strategy to reduce cheatgrass growth with the least impact to other more desirable plants.

Plateau suppresses cheatgrass for one or two years, and Rejuvra has shown to work for multiple years. The study will take about three years to complete.

“If this herbicide treatment proves effective, it provides an additional tool for managers to reduce cheatgrass on sites where native plants are being pushed out, but still maintain sufficient presence to provide seed for populations to expand,” Schultz said. “It has the opportunity to give native plants at risk of transitioning to primarily annual grasses, a three-to-six-year window to increase their abundance over time and, eventually, out-compete the cheatgrass in determining future vegetation change.”

Source: UNR Extension