Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE — A group of state officials, scientists and agricultural experts held its first meeting last week in Lander as part of an initiative to better control invasive weed species.

The group was recently assembled by Gov. Mark Gordon, who said past efforts to manage invasive species such as cheatgrass have either relied on protective practices or the use of chemicals.

“That’s extraordinarily expensive and somewhat counterproductive,” Gordon said of chemical methods. “Cheatgrass is a huge issue. It actually is one of those things that’s very flammable, and it comes back after [wildfires] quicker than almost anything else.”

Dan Tekiela, a University of Wyoming plant sciences professor, described cheatgrass as the “poster child” of invasive species.

“It leaves this really thick layer of dead vegetation that, when we have a fire that comes through ... it creates a continuous fire,” Tekiela said.

Steve Meadows, chairman of the initiative’s policy team, described cheatgrass as “the cancer of Wyoming.”

Though cheatgrass is better known, Wyoming has many other invasive species that people are unaware of, Tekiela said. Leafy spurge, for example, can harm native plant populations.

Coordination across property lines is essential to solve problems associated with invasive species, Tekiela said.

“Weed management takes time and monitoring, and often adapting, because Mother Nature doesn’t always listen to what we try to do,” he added.

Gordon said his initiative will try to establish a more thorough plan that goes beyond just spraying chemicals.

“The critical aspect I’m hoping to bring to this is what’s our initial attack, what is our subsequent attack, and then how do we maintain this over time so that it is manageable and sustainable and measurably productive,” he said.

Two relatively new invasive plants, ventenata and medusahead, have made inroads in Sheridan and Johnson counties. Both species can cause harm at a level similar to cheatgrass, experts say.

“We think they could likely spread across a lot of the state,” Tekiela said.

With new species invading, Gordon’s group will search for ways to encourage farmers and ranchers to take action.

Member Jessica Crowder, who works on policy for the Western Landowners Association, said federal funding and grants are potential options.

“We could think more creatively in Wyoming about incentives for landowners for managing and controlling those invasive plant species,” Crowder said.

The group hopes to produce a report or recommendation by late April or early May, Meadows said.

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