Rangeland Restoration on the Channel Scablands of Eastern Washington

Final Report for OW13-005

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2013: $49,931.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Western
State: Utah
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Kip Panter
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Project Information


Final Report, May 10, 2017

Project OW 13-005, “Rangeland Restoration on the Channel Scablands of Eastern Washington”

               Research over the last 3 years, funded primarily by this grant (Project OW 13-005), has resulted in the identification of improved perennial grasses and forage kochia species that established and persisted over the time frame of this project.  Over the short term, medusahead has not re-invaded where establishment of perennial grasses and forage kochia has been accomplished.  The most successful grass species to establish included Hycrest II, Vavilov II, Sherman Big Bluegrass (a native species) and to a lesser extent Western wheatgrass and Thickspike wheatgrass.  We have also had excellent success establishing 2 varieties of forage kochia within the grass species mix.  Successful establishment of replicated plots the first year of the project followed by establishment of larger demonstration plots  the 2nd and 3rd years on sites of five different ranches have provided a working model to demonstrate the potential to roll back the aggressive invasion of medusahead into this region.  Improved forage quality and quantity, and reduced impact of poisonous plants are 3 major objectives of this research.  Subsequently, we have seeded over 600 acres on private ranches using the grass and forb mix we have identified from the first and second years of research.  Although this is the final report on this project, research in this area will continue as part of a more recent Research and Education Cooperative Grant (SW15-003).  This research has clearly demonstrated the success of introducing improved perennial grass species and forage kochia to compete with medusahead invasion.  Also, over the last 3 years, novel tools have been discovered that will  assist in reducing medusahead and it’s thatch cover using targeted grazing techniques. This targeted grazing provides for an economical seed bed preparation that requires only minimal mechanical disturbance fewer financial resources to allow seeding of perennial grasses and kochia.  Stake holders understand the serious implications of invasive species, are very receptive to the work we are doing in this region, and continue to encourage and support this research.


The Channel Scablands in central Washington State represent over 2,000 square miles of land with important economic, historical, and environmental significance to the western U.S.  Cattle grazing, wildlife habitat, hunting, tourism, and farming are just a few of the most essential economic and aesthetic elements of this region.  Historically, the Channel Scablands was created at the end of the last ice age (14,000 to 20,000 years ago) by repeated catastrophic floods as glaciers receded to the north and ice dams broke at the mouth of the ancient Lake Missoula.  Monumental amounts of water were released over a few days scouring the overlying top soils from the landscape.  These repeated floods left this vast region of central Washington primarily suitable for livestock grazing with only small isolated areas for farming.  However, the Scablands is an important economic region for cattle grazing in the State of Washington.  The invasion of annual grasses over the last century, first cheat grass and more recently Medusahead rye, has significantly reduced forage options for livestock producers resulting in a decline of forage quality, reduced cattle numbers, increased incidence of wildfires and increased risk from grazing poisonous plants.  The research funded through SARE over the last 3 years had provided important information and technology for ranchers, land managers and agencies to begin to restore this important region back to a more healthy and sustainable ecosystem.

Project Objectives:

Objectives and performance targets over the 3 year project were completed or exceeded. 

Year 1:  Study sites were selected (Figure 1) Figure-1 on 5 ranches across a 25 mile transect of the Channel Scablands near Ritzville, WA, and replicated plots were prepared and seeded.  Perennial grasses were selected including Hycrest II, Vavilov II, Bozoisky II, and Mixed Natives (Sherman Big Bluegrass, Secar Snake River wheatgrass, Bannock Thickspike wheatgrass and Recovery Western wheatgrass).  Three forage kochia species (Immigrant, Sahro and Otavny) were selected for inclusion in the grass mix.  Establishment and plant density were determined the fall of year 1 (Table 1, Figures 2 and 3).Tables,Figure-2,Figure-3

Year 2:  Germination rates and seedling establishment were evaluated on replicated plots (Table 1; Figures 2 and 3).  Plots were clipped in July to compare biomass and forage quality (Table 2).  Data were recorded and analyzed for comparison and reported.  It was determined that Hycrest II, Vavilov II and Sherman Big Bluegrass were the most successful perennial grasses established.  Bozoisky II plots failed and only a few of the natives other than Sherman Big Bluegrass established (Table 1; Figure 2).  Immigrant forage kochia was the most successful forage kochia to establish, although only a few Sahro plants survived in the replicated plots (Figure 4).Figure-4   Larger demonstration plots were selected in close proximity to each of the replicated plots, prepared for seeding and seeded in the late fall/ early winter of the second year.  A stakeholder meeting/workshop was held at one research plot on the Spencer ranch (Site 5, Figure 5 a and b) Figure-5 in June to review progress and provide current information to the stakeholders.  Abstracts were prepared using portions of the data collected from the first 2 years of this project and submitted for presentation at the SRM meetings in Orlando, FL and St. George, UT and at the Ninth International Poisonous Plant Symposium in HoHot, Inner Mongolia China. (See references and abstracts)

Year 3:  Data were collected from all replicated plots and combined with data from year 2.  Data were statistically analyzed to compare germination rates, persistence, biomass and forage quality across all 5 sites (Tables 1-3).  Biomass was evaluated in May and July for years 2 and 3 (Table 3).  The data clearly demonstrates that the annual grasses mature quickly while the perennial grasses and forbs mature later in the season.  Data from Tables 1-3 were published in peer reviewed journals (references), and have been prepared and submitted for inclusion in newsletters, social media and popular magazine release.  Additionally, information from the replicated plots and demonstration plots were used to expand the research to ranch scale on two ranches.  At the writing of this report over 600 acres on private ranches have been seeded using information and protocols from this research.  Additional research will include evaluation of these ranch scale plantings to assess overall forage improvement, grazing capacity, condition of the cattle and general economic improvements.    

Tables 1-4 demonstrate the germination success and establishment of the grasses and forage kochia during years 1-3 of the study and tables 3 and 4  and figure 6 Figure-6 compare grass and forage kochia response on plots of the 5 selected sites.  Based on 3 years of data, the best performing grasses were Hycrest II, Vavilov II and Sherman Big Bluegrass (Figures 2, 3). Over 90% of the native mix germination the first 2 years was represented by Sherman Big Bluegrass (Figure 7). Figure-7 The germination rates of the other species in the native mix and Bozoisky were poor (Figure 2). The lack of establishment of Bozoisky allowed medusahead to quickly re-established dominance in those plots (Tables 1 and 2; Figure 2).  Because of herbicide residue the forage kochia failed to germinate and establish in the replicated plots, however there was excellent germination and establishment in the larger demonstration plots (Table 4).  This data will be evaluated and published in the next year.  Based on tables 1 and 2, and figures 2 and 3,  one can see that the lack of re-invasion of the weeds is strongly correlated with the positive response in the grass plots.    

Table 2 and Figure 7  show the increased biomass production of each of the replicated plots.  Hycrest II, Vavilov II and the native mix clearly out-performed the Bosoisky II plots. Vavilov II was the best performing improved perennial variety.  In the native mix, Sherman Big Bluegrass was the only native variety that successfully established and the positive response is clearly demonstrated. 

                Tables 3 and 4  and figure 6  compare biomass production and forage kochia response across all 5 study sites and also compare biomass of annual grasses, forbs, forage kochia and vavilov II at 2 collection times (May and July) during the grazing season.  Clearly, the annual grasses matured early in the season, which was expected as these are shallow rooted grasses that take advantage of the early moisture.  The biomass of the perennial grasses, forbes and forage kochia continued to grow and the highest biomass occurred at the July clipping.  This was also expected.  It is anticipated that as the forage kochia establishes and matures the roots will establish into the lower soil profiles and the amount of biomass represented by the forage kochia will continue to increase over the next few years.  This has been the case for the first 2 years following establishment and will be monitored and measured over the next few years. 

As discussed in annual report #2, the forage Kochia response was negative in the replicated plots.  We believe this poor response was from residual herbicide in the soils incident to the preparation phase of the project, therefore evaluation of forage kochia in replicated plots was not done inititally.   However, forage kochia was included in the demonstration plots and while there was a clear site difference (Table 4) there was also a better response in year 3 compared to year 2 (Table 3).   Therefore, data will be included in analysis and publication in subsequent years (Tables 3 and 4: Figure 6).


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Roy Clinesmith
  • Dick Coon
  • Dr. Clive Gay
  • Bill G. Harder
  • Bill Harder
  • Dr. Kevin Jensen
  • John Kouns
  • Tom Platt
  • Branden Spencer
  • Clint Stoncipher
  • Dr. Blair Waldron


Materials and methods:

Replicated and demonstration plots were established on 5 ranches at 5 sites (Figure 1) spanning a 25 mile transect across the Scablands to take advantage of different rangeland conditions, environmental factors and variations in microclimates.  The replicated plot study was a split-plot in a randomized complete block design consisting of four blocks per location.  Each block consisted of eight plots (3 X 15 m) with seven different seeding treatments and one untreated control plot.  With the exception of the control plot, replicated plots were prepared at the beginning of the study by spraying in the spring with glyphosate (560 g ae/ha) and (2,4-D; 584 g ae/ha) and in the fall with chlorsulfuron and sulfometruon using a CO2-pressurized back pack spayer at a rate of 153 L/ha.  Seeding of perennial grasses was done in the fall with a Truax no-till drill equipped with depth bands to ensure consistent seeding depth.  Row spacing was 20 cm.  Grasses selected for seeding included Vavilov II Siberian wheatgrass, Bozoisky II Russian wildrye, Hycrest II crested wheatgrass and a native cool-season grass mix composed of Sherman big bluegrass, Secar Snake River wheatgrass, Bannock Thickspike wheatgrass and Recovery Western wheatgrass.  One cultivar of Immigrant forage kochia and two breeding lines of forage kochia (Bassia prostrata) were interseeded with Vavilov II in 3 plots.  The forage kochia was applied using a Gandy drop seeder and the rate was 2.2 kg/ha overseeded on selected plots in January. At the same time larger demonstration plots (1-2 ha) were selected in close proximity to the replicated plots.  These plots were prepared with no herbicide application and minimal soil disturbance using an offset disk and harrow.  Seeding was done using Vavilov II Siberian wheatgrass at about 10 kg/ha pure live seed in the fall and Immigrant forage kochia broadcast at 2 kg/ha.  After research results on the replicated plots were collected at the end of year 1 and and observing the responses on the larger demonstration plots, one rancher was very interested in collaborating with us and providing enough pasture to expand to a ranch scale project.  This rancher has now committed to a five year plan to restore his entire ranch using this technology.   

Research results and discussion:


All milestones and objectives for this SARE grant have been accomplished or exceeded.  Information has been prepared and submitted for newsletter, social media and information bulletin release (these are currently in progress).  Germination and establishment data shown in tables 1-3 and Figure 5 followed by the biomass data in Table 2 and 3 clearly demonstrates, for the short term, the potential to improve rangeland conditions and reduce medusahead re-invasion in this harsh ecosystem known as the Channel Scablands.  However, much more research and long term evaluation will be required to determine the long term success of these improved grasses to persist under grazing pressure in this environment and at the same time prevent re-invasion of the annual grasses.   Grazing of the replicated plots and the larger demonstration plots was allowed the fall of 2016 and further evaluation will continue in the summer of 2017.  The first of the ranch scale seedings will be grazed the fall of 2017.

Participation Summary

Research Outcomes

No research outcomes

Education and Outreach

Participation Summary:

Education and outreach methods and analyses:


 Stonecipher, C.A., Panter, K.E., Villalba, J.J. 2016. Effect of protein supplementation on forage utilization by cattle in annual grass-dominated rangelands in the Channel Scablands of Eastern Washington. Journal of Animal Science. 94(6):2572-2582.

 ABSTRACT: Medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae [L.] Nevski) has become a major invasive plant on the annual grass dominated rangelands within the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington. Livestock typically avoid grazing medusahead and forage alternatives are becoming limited in the region. Our hypothesis was that supplying a high CP supplement would provide a nutritional context that complements the nutritional composition of medusahead and other annual grasses and thus aid cattle in utilizing this vegetation component, making grazing a more effective method of weed control. Cattle grazed annual grass-infested rangelands dominated with medusahead for 10-d periods during June, July, and August over two consecutive years. Eight separate pastures were grazed, by cattle pairs, during each of the three grazing periods. Cattle in four control pastures received no supplement and four pastures received a supplement of canola meal that supplied 75 % of the daily recommended CP requirement. Bite counts were used to determine diet composition. Forage categories consisted of annual grasses, perennial grasses, and forbs. Bites taken of annual grasses were similar between treatment groups during the first 5-d of the grazing period (P > 0.05) and then cattle supplemented with canola meal increased consumption of annual grasses during d 6 to 10 of the grazing periods over non-supplemented animals (P < 0.05). Consumption of annual grasses was greater during the second year of the grazing study (P < 0.05) likely due to a decline in abundance of forage alternatives in the plant community. The percentage of medusahead in the annual grass forage class tended to decrease in grazed pastures over the three years of the study (P = 0.056), 87 ± 4.2 %, 64 ± 3.6 %, and 50 ± 3.6 %, respectively. The percentage of medusahead in the annual grasses was similar across years in non-grazed pastures (P > 0.05). Forb production was greatest the first year of grazing and declined the second year of grazing and continued to decline the following year with no grazing (P < 0.05). Perennial grass production was low throughout the study. The effects of grazing on medusahead abundance suggest cattle may be utilized to graze this weed after it has matured in an integrated management program with other forms of control to reduce infestation prior to seeding with desirable forage species.


Stonecipher, C.A., Panter, K.E., Jensen, K.B., Rigby, C.W., Villalba, J.J. 2016. Revegetation of medusahead-invaded rangelands in the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington. Rangeland Ecology and Management, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.rama.2016.11.002

ABSTRACT: Vegetation on the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington has been altered to a community dominated by medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae [L.] Nevski). Medusahead is used by livestock but becomes unpalatable as the plant matures and seed heads develop, thus decreasing carrying capacity. The objective of this study was to determine if improved cool-season grasses could establish and persist on medusahead-infested rangelands in the region. A split-plot randomized complete block design consisting of four blocks was established at three different locations. Plots were treated with herbicides to remove all vegetation and seeded in 2010. Seeded species included introduced cool-season grass cultivars: Hycrest II crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum [L.] Gaertn.), Vavilov II Siberian wheatgrass (Agropyron fragile [Roth] P. Candargy), Bozoisky II Russian wildrye (Psathyrostachys juncea [Fisch.] Nevski), and a native cool-season grass mix composed of Sherman big bluegrass (Poa secunda J. Presl), Secar Snake River wheatgrass (Elymus wawawaiensis J. Carlson & Barkworth), Bannock Thickspike wheatgrass (Elymus lanceolatus [Scribn. & J. G. Sm.] Gould), and Recovery Western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii [Rydb.] Á Löve). Sherman big bluegrass was the only native species that established, and frequency was 65% at the end of the study. Hycrest II frequency was 48% at the end of the study. Vavilov II frequency was 50% at the end of the study. Sherman big bluegrass matured early in the season and had greater biomass production than Hycrest II and Vavilov II in May. The later-maturing Hycrest II and Vavilov II were similar in biomass production to Sherman big bluegrass in July. Bozoisky II had poor stand establishment and did not persist. Hycrest II, Vavilov II, and Sherman big bluegrass are forages that can be used for revegetation on the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington.


Book Chapter

 Stonecipher, C. A., K. E. Panter, K. B. Jensen, T. E. Platt, and J. J. Villalba. 2014. Mitigation of lupine-induced crooked calf syndrome on the channel Scablands of eastern Washington through rangeland restoration. In Poisonous Plants: Toxicology, Ecology, Management, and Medicine (M Zhao, T Wierenga, and K Panter, eds), pp. 264-268. ISOPP9 Committee, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, P.R. China.

Abstracts and Proceedings 

Stonecipher, C., K. Panter, and J. J. Villalba. 2014. Cattle consumption of medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae) on the channel Scablands of eastern Washington. Society of Range Management 67th Annual Meeting, Orlando, FL.

ABSTRACT: Medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae (L.) Nevski) is an invasive noxious grass of Mediterranean origin and is well adapted to the semi-arid climates of the western United States. The channel scablands of eastern Washington includes over 2000 square miles of rangeland with geological, historical and economic significance to the region. Past overgrazing, frequent wildfires and mismanagement have resulted in destruction of plant biodiversity and major degradation of the rangelands providing an opportunity for medusahead invasion. The objective of this study was to determine if canola meal (CM) provided as a protein supplement will increase the utilization of medusahead by grazing beef cattle.  Angus heifers and Hereford steers grazed eight 0.2 hectare pastures during three 10 day grazing periods in June, July and August over two years. Pastures contained one steer and one heifer each with four of the pastures receiving CM and four unsupplemented. Forage consumption was determined using visual bite counts. Bite count categories were annual grasses (AG), consisting of all annual grasses including medusahead, perennial grasses (PG) and forbs (F). Data were analyzed as a two-way factorial in a split-plot with June and July periods reported during 2012 and 2013. There was no difference in the number of total bites taken between treatment groups (P = 0.98).  Supplemented cattle consumed a higher percentage of AG (34%) than unsupplemented cattle (28%; P = 0.058). The percentage of number of bites on AG relative to the total number of bites was greater in 2013 with July of 2013 having the highest utilization (P < 0.01). Forb consumption followed an inverse relationship with AG with the highest utilization in 2012 and the lowest in July of 2013 (P < 0.01). This research showed that a protein supplement (CM) increased consumption of medusahead and other annual grasses by beef cattle.


Panter, K. E., K. Jensen, C. Stonecipher, B. Waldron, T. Platt, and J. J. Villalba. 2014. Rangeland restoration: a method to mitigate lupine-induced crooked calf syndrome on the channeled Scablands of eastern Washington. Society of Range Management 67th Annual Meeting, Orlando, FL.

ABSTRACT: The Channeled Scablands of east-central Washington include over 2,000 square miles of rangeland important to livestock and wildlife grazing. Because of overgrazing in the past, frequent wildfires and historic range mismanagement, annual grasses and undesirable forbs have invaded most of this area degrading the value of the rangelands and interfering with optimum utilization. Some forbs are potentially poisonous to livestock; lupines are responsible for 1-5% annual losses because of “crooked calf syndrome” (CCS). Larger losses frequently occur on individual ranches and occasional catastrophic losses occur when lupine populations explode following above average rainfall. Restoration efforts using improved perennial grasses and selected forbs (forage kochia) will increase forage production and sustainability on these degraded rangelands. The objective of this study was to determine if improved or native cool-season perennial grasses and/or forage kochia could be established on the harsh landscape of the scablands, and if these improved species will compete with the annual grasses and provide a higher quality of feed to prevent cattle from grazing lupine in late summer. A plot study was set up with 8 treatments in 4 replications at 3 different ranches across a 25 mile transect within Adams County. The grass species included ‘Vavilov II’ Siberian wheatgrass (Agropyron fragile), ‘Bozoisky II’ Russian wildrye (Psathyrostachys juncea), ‘Hycrest II’ crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum) and a native mix consisting of ‘Sherman’ Big bluegrass (Poa secunda), ‘Recovery’ western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii), ‘Secar’ Snake River wheatgrass (Elymus wawawaiensis), and ‘Bannock’ Thickspike wheatgrass (Elymus lanceolatus). Three species of forage kochia, including Kochia prostrata, were used. Forage production was highest in the native mix early in the season (1899 kg/ha; p<0.01) with Vavilov II production increasing later in the season (2443 kg/ha; p<0.01). The establishment of the forage kochia was variable but demonstrated that this forb can be established in the Channeled Scablands.


Spackman, C. Panter, K., Stonecipher, C. and Villalba, J.  2016.  Gyphosate Application and Cattle Grazing: An Integrated Approach to Control Medusahead.  Society of Range Management, 69th Annual Meeting, St. George, UT.

ABSTRACT:  Glyphosate (RT3 brand) was shown to proportionately increase consumption of medusahead, other grasses, and forbs by cattle over that of salt treated plants.  However, difference between herbicide treated plants and control were marginal which may have been caused by the diverse plant community within plots.  Abundant and more palatable perennial bunch grasses, as observed in the treatment strips, may have decreased the consumption of herbicide treated medusahead.  In addition, the salt content in the RT3 herbicide did not increase preference for medusahead; on the contrary, cattle avoided the strip treated with KCl, evidenced by the lowest amounts of biomass removed from that treatment. 

Education and Outreach Outcomes

Recommendations for education and outreach:

Areas needing additional study

It is difficult to make any long term predictions of these seeding trials after only three years of research, however the early data is very promising.  We plan continue to monitor the replicated and demonstration plots and set up study plots on the ranch scale seedings to provide grazing management tools and develop new treatment and technique to ensure that the improved grasses and forage kochia will persist.  With the help of one cooperator and hopefully others as they begin to utilize the research, we will monitor animal responses, stocking rates, grazing pressure, reproduction and economic viability.  We also plan do an economic analysis after a few years to determine the feasibility and sustainability of these grasses and forbs and hopefully get NRCS to cooperate with local ranchers in expanding the seeding program across the region through cost sharing programs.  Herbicide treatment, soil amendments and other treatments will be used to enhance the current outcomes always keeping in mind that for producers to utilize the tools it must be feasible and economical.    The strong stakeholder support in this region is indicative of the scope of the problem and the level of interest created by this research.  The demonstration plots and ranch scale seeding are of particular interest to the stakeholders and were established with this purpose in mind.  This allows producers and land managers to observe on a larger scale the economic feasibility and potential for rangeland improvement.  These larger plots are also intended to provide the research information and technology transfer to transition from the published research provided by the replicated plots to the ranch scale applications and improvements.  Also, with the help and suggestions of local weed boards, NRCS and ranchers we hope to see this research expand across the entire region.  These range improvement will benefit not only livestock producers but the native wildlife, birds and pollinators that are vital for a healthy ecosystem. 

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.