Tackling Invasive Weeds

“The sagebrush ecosystem is the fiber, the fabric, and the heritage of a vast swath of our country, and it’s in a fight for its life.” 
Statement by Noreen Walsh, Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director at the Western Invasive Weed Summit

Invasive weeds grip the Great Basin and its native ecosystems. In particular, cheatgrass has overtaken many native counterparts by growing early in the season, avoiding competition and “cheating” for resources, leaving behind a fire-prone and nutrient-poor landscape. Large-scale invasions continue to expand at alarming rates. Despite decades of restoration efforts, success has been piecemeal and limited. The Great Basin, as Noreen Walsh says, is in a fight for its life.

A collaborative Wildfire and Invasive Species Working Group, which was led by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) and included staff from the Great Basin LCC, examined this issue and developed a list of recommendations as a starting point for further dialog and action. These recommendations were published last spring in a report titled Invasive Plant Management and Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation. A key recommendation of the group was to convene a summit to develop a collaborative, landscape-scale action plan to address invasive weeds.

“The summit came together through a series of events,” noted Todd Hopkins, Great Basin LCC science coordinator and co-author of the report. “WAFWA wanted to address this important issue of invasive weeds. You can see the devastation across the landscape as sagebrush ecosystems die off, and fires scorch the land. Unlike other areas of the country, most of the West is owned by the federal government, which means that an effort to undertake invasive weeds needs support from all levels of government and organizations, and it needs to happen on a massive scale. The first step to solve this issue, is to get everyone impacted by invasive weeds in one place. The report recommended a summit that outlined the issues, but also provided space to discuss solutions and develop an action plan that works for everyone.”

In an unprecedented effort, the Western Invasive Weed Summit, held in Boise, ID, gathered nearly 240 leading federal, state, and local government leaders, along with private ranchers, scientists, and conservationists. They all had one goal in mind: create landscape-scale solutions to defeat invasive weeds.

The three-day summit discussed weed management, impacts to sage-grouse, successes in tackling cheatgrass, managing weeds versus habitats and addressing fire. Leaders from various branches of government, academics and private citizens were invited to attend. Participants contemplated detailed questions and worked to find actionable solutions. Unlike many other efforts, this summit operated collaboratively across disciplines and agencies to determine a common path forward.

From these discussions, a regional action plan targeting invasive weeds is being created. It will derive short and long-term goals for combating invasive weeds and outlining the actions needed to tackle this issue on a landscape-scale. The plan will guide land management at local, state and federal levels. Rick Kearney, Great Basin LCC coordinator, and Todd Hopkins, will help lead the action plan’s development. They hope to address invasive concerns across property lines and artificial barriers, all in order to conquer the invasive assault of the West.

Kearney added, “I think the Great Basin LCC has a lot to contribute to this effort. Our Steering Committee exemplifies the type of coalition and partnership among government agencies, tribes, non-profits, academics and others needed to address invasive weeds. We hope to be a focal point for collaboration. On the same token, this effort is bigger than the LCC. Addressing invasives is a massive undertaking, and we hope to bring everyone together in a unified effort. I think we can, as they say, ‘beat the cheat.’”

Comments from the summit and the action plan will be presented to the Department of the Interior in late January to address Secretarial Order 3336 on Rangeland Fire Prevention, Management and Restoration. Materials from the summit and the action plan will be available on the Western Invasive Weed Summit webpage.