cheatgrass

On the side of a rocky hill in Sheridan County in northern Wyoming, Brain Mealor is showing off all of his weeds.

“Here, let me grab a cheatgrass so you can see it, too,” he said, plucking a wispy sprig from among the grasses. “They all kind of look the same this time of year.”

Mealor is the director of the University of Wyoming’s Research and Extension Center in Sheridan. He’s performing experiments on how to manage and kill invasive annual grasses, like cheatgrass, ventenata and medusa head, with herbicides.

Researchers from a number of states, including Idaho, Colorado and Nevada, have found that grazing does not help get rid of cheatgrass, a highly flammable weed. 

South-facing slope covered in cheat grass near medicine bow forest
Cooper McKim

Near Medicine Bow Forest, there’s a scenic road that cuts in between a valley. The north face is shaded, covered with small flowers, trees, and dark green plant life — edible to deer and small animals. The south face doesn’t look so good.

Lindsey Wheat, Supervisor at the Albany County Weed and Pest Council, said, “You see over here on this slope, you see nothing but rocks, cheat grass, not a lot of animals are going to hang out in there."

Famartin / Wikimedia Commons

A reclamation expert with Cloud Peak Energy is hoping techniques developed at one of the company’s Powder River Basin coal mines can be applied across the West. Kyle Wendtland helped develop a strategy to combat cheatgrass, an invasive species that’s bad for grazing. It’s become a major problem in the West, with more than 50 million acres affected. Currently, the most common method for removing it is to apply herbicides. Cloud Peak’s approach removes the weed mechanically and then reseeds the area with native grasses. Wendtland says it’s cutting-edge.