Nevada’s Cheatgrass Problem in Detail

The significant problem facing large communities this summer is the threat of Cheatgrass igniting in or near structures. Large swaths of the invasive species have raised fire dangers to critical levels over the years. It’s an easily ignited and fast-burning menace to public safety for communities near open spaces

As we all experienced this spring, we had and extremely dry entry into the summer season. It only takes a quick glance outside your window to see the effects this has on our landscapes – cheat grass everywhere you look. We’ve reposted a few main ideas here previously published by many universities and governmental organizations, including some information from the great Ed Smith, of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

The cheatgrass invasion of vast areas of the West is uniquely intertwined with fire. Cheatgrass has increased the frequency and size of wildfires, and these fires have in turn allowed cheatgrass to expand its dominance.

Rangeland Ecolology & Management | March 2011


Cheatgrass
is one of the most notorious invasive species in the Truckee Meadows, causing dramatic and almost irreversible degradation of natural communities. As temperatures warm and cheatgrass growth rises… and the threat of enhanced fire activity rises right along with it.

It quickly colonizes disturbed arid lands and, once established, creates the conditions necessary for it to flourish. Growing quickly over the winter and dying after setting seed in early summer, cheatgrass leaves a dense cover of fine, highly flammable fuel. This abundance of fuel increases the frequency of fires, prevents the re-establishment of native plant species, and makes more space for cheatgrass. The cycle continues until large areas are covered with nothing but a cheatgrass monoculture.

Some level of cheatgrass presence may indeed be inevitable in the LTB, but ignoring the threat of further invasion and the factors that abet it could lead to serious ecosystem consequences. The most effective way to reduce the impact of invasive species is to identify new occurrences and eradicate them.

Predictive Modeling of Cheatgrass Invasion Risk for the Lake Tahoe | 10-2010

Cheatgrass typically completes its life cycle as a winter annual. It produces highly flammable standing dead biomass in early summer following seed production, greatly increasing the likelihood of subsequent fire.

Drier sites, especially those highly disturbed (e.g., close to roads and urban areas), were more suitable for cheatgrass than wetter, undisturbed sites. Quick action should be taken if cheatgrass establishment is documented.

Seed mortality is greatest with fires that burn while seeds are still attached to the plant, especially just before seed shatter in the summer. Removal of the grass before seeds begin to drop is always preferred.

Control and Management:

  • Manual cheatgrass control – Fire, mowing, grazing, tillage, and inter-seeding of competitive native plants have all been shown to reduce populations of cheatgrass.
  • Chemical cheatgrass control:  Cheatgrass can be effectively controlled using any of several professionally applied herbicides. But its effectiveness is limited by the environmental conditions during the cold early spring and early fall when pre-emergents should be applied, mainly lack of a suitable water supply to activate chemicals. This is when a competent landscape management company can really make a dent in the application of these herbicides.
It’s really about managing the threat. We’ve found a combination of labor, herbicides and time can effectively keep cheatgrass out of the large open areas near neighborhoods, schools and commercial buildings. As long as we’re constantly on top of the threat, we can one step closer to a FIRE-SAFE landscape.

Lebo Newman, Owner/Partner, Signature Landscapes