Application of Lessons Learned from NRCS Rangeland CEAP: A site-specific, Low Cost System for Medusahead Control

Final Report for EW13-027

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2013: $68,469.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Jeremy James
University of California
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Project Information

Abstract:

Rangelands represent the largest continuous network of working landscapes in the West. However, the invasive annual grass medusahead is driving whole-sale changes in the structure and viability of the ranching enterprises and the non-market ecosystems services these working landscapes support. The NRCS Rangeland Conservation Effects Assessment Project found that over 80% of rangeland weed management efforts failed over the long-term for three central reasons including: 1) lack of simple weed management decision-support systems that address site-specific environmental conditions 2) lack of low-cost tools for weed management and 3) lack of peer-learning networks to promote development and dissemination of on-the-ground knowledge. Over the last five years we have developed three lines of work that address all three major barriers to adoption and success of medusahead control. The goal of this project is to use our five years of previous work to develop and deploy a holistic education and technology transfer program for sustainable agriculture extension, education and training agents in California and Oregon that addresses the central ecological, economic and sociological barriers limiting enduring medusahead management programs. We propose to translate our knowledge base into a site-specific, low-cost management framework, to host training workshops for agricultural professionals to learn to deploy and enhance this framework, and to initiate ranch-scale demonstrations of this framework. Expected long-term outcomes include an enhanced forage based in linked production systems, increased biodiversity, decreased catastrophic wildfire generated by medusahead, as well as more sustainable and resilient agricultural enterprises, rural economies, and communities.

Project Objectives:

We will address our education and technology transfer goal through four key objectives:

  1. Develop and produce a user-friendly, decision-support system for ranch-specific medusahead management. This product will allow NRCS to work with ranchers in a step-by-step manner to tailor a simple, long-term medusahead management program that addresses specific enterprise economic and ecological constraints.

  2. Produce technical guidelines outlining low-cost medusahead management tools including:

    1. A simple monitoring and forecasting tool to identify most likely periods of medusahead susceptibility to grazing, mowing and herbicides

    2. Guidelines for manipulating the spatial distribution of attractants to maximize grazing pressure on medusahead during critical growth periods

    3. Comparison and contrast of alternative “precision grazing” systems on medusahead

    4. Cost-benefit summaries of low-cost medusahead IPM programs

  3. Host training workshops for NRCS and other professionals to gain in-depth understanding of the ecology, economics and sociology driving development and application of our products as well as how to deploy products in a real-world ranch setting.

  4. Establish peer-learning networks using joint NRCS-producer ranch-level demonstrations and evaluations of our decision-support system and technical guides.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Theresa Becchetti
  • Philip Brownsey
  • Josh Davy
  • Joe Ditomaso
  • Morgan Doran
  • Emilio Laca
  • Roger Sheley
  • Brenda Smith

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Publications:

Brownsey, P., J. J. James, S. J. Barry. T. A. Becchetti, J. S. Davy; M. P. Doran, L. C. Forero, J. M. Harper, R. E. Larsen, S. R. Larson-Praplan, J. Zhang, and E. A. Laca. 2016. Using phenology to optimize timing of mowing and grazing treatments for medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae). Rangeland Ecology & Management. [in press]

Brownsey, P., J. S. Davy, T. A. Becchetti, M. L. Easley, J. J. James, and E. A. Laca. 2016. Barb goatgrass and medusahead: timing of grazing and mowing treatments. Publication 8567. University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. [available at: http://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu]

Brownsey, P., J. J. James, E. A. Laca, J. S. Davy, T. A. Becchetti, and M. Easley. 2015. Timing grazing & mowing treatments based on plant growth stage. UC ANR Sierra Foothill Research & Extension Center. [handout, available at: http://sfrec.ucanr.edu/Outreach/Medusahead_-_Barb_Goatgrass/]

James, J. J., E. S. Gornish, J. M. DiTomaso, J. Davy, M. P. Doran, Barb goat grass and medusahead phenologyT. Becchetti, D. Lile, P. Brownsey, and E. A. Laca. 2015. Managing medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae) on rangeland: a meta-analysis of control effects and assessment of stakeholder needs. Rangeland Ecology & Management 68(2): 215-223.

Sheley, R.L., J.L. Sheley, and B.S. Smith. 2015. Economic savings from invasive plant
prevention. Weed Science 63(1):296-301.

Smith, B.S. and R.L. Sheley. 2015. Implementing strategic weed prevention programs to
protect rangeland ecosystems. Invasive Plant Science and Management 8(2):233-242

Sheley, R, J. Sheley, and B. Smith. 2014. Cost/benefit analysis of invasive annual
grasses in partially invaded sagebrush steppe ecosystems. Weed Science 62: 38-44.
2014.

Workshops:

Practical Approaches to Managing Medusahead and Barb Goatgrass. Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center, Browns Valley, California, June 28, 2016.

The Management of Medusahead on California Working Ranches, Farmington, California April 29, 2015.

The Management of Medusahead on California Working Ranches, Hornitos, California April 28, 2015.

The Management of Medusahead on California Working Ranches, Ione, California November 10, 2015.

The Ecology and Management of Medusahead and Barb Goatgrass on California Rangeland. Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center, Browns Valley, California, November, 5 2013.

Presentations:

Brownsey, P. 2015. Studying treatment effects and ecosystem services for medusahead. Guest lecture presented for NATR 310: Study Design and Field Methods, American River College, Sacramento, California, May 7, 2015.

Brownsey, P. 2015. Intregrating practices for controlling medusahead into IPM. Paper presented at the UC Berkeley Range Ecology Lab Meeting, Berkeley, California, March 18, 2015.

Brownsey, P. 2015. Medusahead IPM: where do we go from here? Paper presented at the Society for Range Management Annual Meeting, Sacramento, California, February 5, 2015.

Brenda, S. 2015. Medusahead management on the ranch. Presentation at the Country Natural Beef Annual Producer Gathering, Bend, Oregon, February, 2015.

Brownsey, P. 2014. Addressing lessons learned from the NRCS Rangeland CEAP: establishing peer-learning networks for effective, low-cost medusahead control within the ranching community. Paper presented at the California Invasive Plant Council Symposium, Chico, California, October 10, 2014.

Brenda, S. 2014. Ranch scale annual grass issues. Presentation at the John Day Calving School, John Day, Oregon, December, 2014.

Brenda, S. 2014. Medusahead management on the ranch. Presentation at the Crook County Soil & Water Conservation District Annual Gathering, Paulina, Oregon, February, 2014.

Websites:

Presentations on sfrec.ucanr.edu: This is a webpage linking to information and documents produced as part of this grant that provide review of the current understanding of medusahead and barb goatgrass management and effects on ecosystem services. This includes published material guiding treatment efforts, presentation slides from workshops, and a link to the youtube videos of presentations, made available for people that were unable to attend the workshops. http://sfrec.ucanr.edu/Outreach/Medusahead_-_Barb_Goatgrass/

YouTube channel with workshop presentation videos: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL3gkHh7q6F6udU9k0PHCT7UCC1_HONIXA

Information on EBIPM.org: EBIPM.org is a website of decision-support information for ranchers and rangeland management professionals providing guidance on ecologically-based invasive plant management. Material on this website creatued for this grant include the publications: Manager’s guides to Grazing Invasive Annual Grasses, Establishing Weed Prevention Areas, and Applying Ecologically-based IPM and a video “A Working Ranch with an Effective Medusahead Management Program”. http://ebipm.org/

Outcomes and impacts:

Workshops and Field Days (Peer-Learning Networks)

We have hosted six workshops and field days in California and three workshops in Oregon for rangeland management professionals, ranchers, and land managers. In California, about 200 people attended, including about 30 NRCS employees, 40 UC academics, 35 ranchers, and 45 public and private land managers, among others. In Oregon, about 80 people attended these events, including about 75 ranchers and 5 NRCS and Soil & Water Conservation District employees. In these workshops, we outlined approaches to medusahead management and discussed our experiences implementing practices at the demonstration ranches while also providing a venue for ranchers and land managers to share their experiences managing medusahead. Four of these workshops were held at field sites where IPM treatments were in the process of being implemented in conjunction with the livestock producer grazing the land, offering an opportunity to discuss the real-world challenges of implementation in a production setting. Most of these workshops included open discussions among participants about their management efforts and lessons learned through the adoption of IPM practices into grazing management.

In the June 2016 workshop, we received evaluations from 38 of the 54 attendees. On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 is strongly disagree and 5 is strongly agree) responding to whether they felt that the workshop changed their understanding of managing medusahead and barb goatgrass, they gave an average score of 3.8 (st. dev. 0.7), indicating that they agree that they increased their understanding. Responding to the question of their increased likelihood to implement treatments of medusahead and barb goatgrass, they gave an average score of 3.8 (st. dev. 0.7). In the April 2015 workshops, we recieved evaluations from 16 attendeees. Responding to similar questions, they said that their understanding of managing medusahead and barb goatgrass, they gave an average score of 4.8 (st. dev. 0.5) and their increased likelihood to implement treatments of medusahead and barb goatgrass, they gave an average score of 4.5 (st. dev. 0.7). In the presentations given in Oregon, 100% of attendees responding agreed or strongly agreed in the importance of IPM for managing invasive annual grasses, 95% agreed or strongly agreed that the program presented will improve their decision making for rangeland management, and 92% agreed or strongly agreed that they will apply what they learned. In addition an evaluation of stakeholder needs is presented in James et al (2015) based on evaluation responses from the November 2013 workshop at SFREC and the results of these evaluations are summarized in the introduction of this grant report.

Publications

We produced several publications, including journal articles and guides posted on our websites, that are in press or published looking at the effectiveness of medusahead IPM treatments, evaluating information needs of stakeholders in IPM adoption, and providing guidance on implementation of targeted grazing and mowing for medusahead and barb goatgrass to improve effectiveness. These publications are listed elsewhere in this report.

Websites

We are maintaining a website that provides information from the two workshops held at the University of California Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center (SFREC), including presentation slides from the June 28, 2016 and November 5, 2013 workshops. In addition, videos of presentations from the November 5, 2013 workshop are uploaded to the SFREC YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/ucsfrec/). Videos from the June 28, 2016 workshop are still in production but are expected to be made available on YouTube in the next few months. In addition, we are maintaining the Ecologically Based Invasive Plant Management website, focused on managing medusahead in the intermountain west at www.ebipm.org. EBIPM provides decision support tools—including publications and videos—for ranchers and rangeland management professionals responsible for managing rangelands with invasive annual grasses.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Over the course of this project, we have developed decision support tools, produced technical guides on low-cost medusahead management, and implemented demonstration projects on ranches that were be used as the basis for workshops and the development of peer-learning networks.

Decision Support Products

We have published a paper that analyzes the body of scientific knowledge on the effectiveness of practices to reduce medusahead dominance in both the intermountain west and the California annual grassland with a meta-analysis approach, “Managing medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae) on rangeland: A meta-analysis of control efforts and assessment of stakeholder needs” (James et al 2015). This paper distills the body of knowledge as it exists in a variety of papers into one analysis that assesses the effects of practices (including grazing, fire, herbicide, mowing, and seeding) individually and in combination with respect to their effectiveness 1 and 2 to 3 years after implementation to help compare and clarify what the benefits of each alternative practice are.

We have published two papers (Brownsey et al. 2016a, Brownsey et al. 2016b) that analyze the susceptibility of medusahead and barb goatgrass to grazing and mowing treatments and related this to phenological stages with data on the timing of these stages to help inform range managers with targeting the precise timing when either of these two treatment tools would be most effective at achieving the goal of reducing abundance of barb goatgrass or medusahead.

We have presented a several talks and workshops on treating medusahead and barb goatgrass, how one chooses treatment options and the costs-benefits of IPM approaches, including initial findings on the effect of medusahead abundance on livestock production in weight gain terms.

Demonstration Ranch Projects

At the Glenn County demonstration ranch we collected data to evaluate the effectiveness of broadcast seeding on a 330 acre pasture. Using these data we will be comparing vegetation composition and productivity on this pasture to a comparable 380 acre pasture on the same property. This area was substantially affected by the recent drought and there is the possibility of investigating whether this kind of seeding strategy may also serve as a post-drought recovery practice, as well.

At the Stanislaus County demonstration ranch we assessed the effects of drill seeding annual ryegrass and targeted grazing on livestock production, vegetation composition, and forage production. At this site we also continued to work with the rancher to develop an IPM strategy for managing medusahead. Implementing this strategy, we broadcast seeded and harrowed three 25 to 30 acres with annual ryegrass in the fall of 2015. We will be comparing vegetation composition, productivity, and animal performance on these pastures to two comparable, adjacent 25 and 30 acre pastures on the same property. In the spring of 2015, all five of these pastures werel be grazed with randomly assigned stocker cattle at the same stocking rates to measure grazing days as well as cattle weight gains, and this will be integrated with other work on the effects of vegetation composition on steer performance to further illuminate our understanding of the benefits of rangeland seeding treatments. In the fall of 2016, the same pastures at this ranch were broadcast seeded with annual ryegrass with pasture harrowing in an effort to contrast the relative costs and benefits of this method with using a seed drill.

Both demonstration ranches in Oregon were photo-sampled in July to track changes in vegetation composition and medusahead abundance. These ranches were significantly affected by drought during the past year. At the Grant County demonstration ranch, fall targeted grazing on medusahead was conducted for a second consecutive year using supplement blocks to manage livestock distribution. At the Crook County demonstration ranch, water improvements were completed to allow greater flexibility in grazing management, including improved livestock distribution for increased grazing on medusahead.

Peer-Learning Networks

We have hosted four field workshops for ranchers and land managers, reaching about 60 people. In these workshops, we outlined approaches to medusahead management and discussed our experiences implementing practices at the demonstration ranches while also providing a venue for ranchers and land managers to share their experiences managing medusahead. An additional two field workshops are planned at the Oregon demonstration ranches.

In an effort to better understand how ranchers and rangeland managers access and use information on invasive plant management to make management decisions, we conducted face-to-face semi-structured interviews with private ranchers and people with rangeland management responsibilities for public lands and landtrusts (UC Davis IRB ID 773400-1). We selected initial interviewees based on existing contacts with University of California Cooperative Extension Livestock Advisors and used these initial interviewees to inform the selection of further interviewees using a snowball technique, until we reached 43 interviews. These interviewees were dispersed geographically from Tehama to Fresno County, roughly encompassing the extent of medusahead invasion in annual rangeland in California. These interviews will provide information on how best to address the information needs of ranchers and rangeland managers as well as how best to deliver advice based on best available research so that it can be incorporated into decision-making. These interviews will also assess the adoption of current research and identify real or perceived barriers to adoption of effective treatment practices.

Measuring Ecosystem Services

To measure the correlation between medusahead abundance and provision of several ecosystem services from rangelands, we set up a series of observational plots across the state, from Tehama to Monterey County. At a total of 28 plots, we have measured vegetation composition—including medusahead abundance—and insect community composition in the spring and early summer of 2015 and 2016. Similar data is being collected at the Stanislaus County demonstration site. Following the arthropods collections in 2015, we have cataloged 9,000 specimens from about 76 families. These plots will provide information to begin to form hypotheses on the effects of medusahead on vegetation diversity arthropod diversity, abundance of beneficial and pest arthropods, and forage production. Analysis and publication of these results is ongoing.

At an additional 5 sites (Tehama, Yuba, Stanislaus, and Contra Costa Counties), we are testing the relationship between medusahead abundance and nitrogen cycling by comparing plots of differing initial levels of medusahead by tracking stable isotopes of nitrogen added to the plots in the fall of 2015 before germination and again mid-winter before the rapid growth period of spring. Analysis and publication of these results is ongoing.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

The contributions of this work will be to improve tools and information available ranchers, NRCS, and other rangeland professionals for decision making regarding medusahead management on rangelands. This was be accomplished through additional published research that addresses knowledge gaps on treatment effectiveness and will continue as current projects on the cost-benefit of treatments and effects of treatments on ecosystem services are analyzed and published. The available research were and will continue to be used to develop decision-support tools and guide on-ranch medusahead management demonstrations that formed the basis for workshops for ranchers and rangeland professionals to show how tools can be used to meet management goals, discuss the costs and benefits of this management, and specific considerations that may be unique to implementing a given practice in their area. By starting these discussions, showing ranchers how practices can be implemented, and providing technical support, ranchers will be more likely to adopt medusahead management practices that are tailored to their ranch and continue to share these experiences within their community to continue learning from on-the-ground experience.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.