Application of Lessons Learned from NRCS Rangeland CEAP: A site-specific, Low Cost System for Medusahead Control
Rangelands represent the largest continuous network of working landscapes in the West. However, the invasive annual grass medusahead is driving wholesale changes in the structure and viability of the ranching enterprises and the non-market ecosystems services these working landscapes support. The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Rangeland Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) 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.
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: a. A simple monitoring and forecasting tool to identify most likely periods of medusahead susceptibility to grazing, mowing and herbicides b. Guidelines for manipulating the spatial distribution of attractants to maximize grazing pressure on medusahead during critical growth periods c. Comparison and contrast of alternative “precision grazing” systems on medusahead d. 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.
Over the course of the last year, we have been making progress developing information for decision support tools, producing technical guides on low-cost medusahead management, and implementing demonstration projects on ranches that will be used as the basis for workshops and the development of peer-learning networks.
We have submitted a manuscript for publication 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.” (In Review.) 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 are currently drafting a manuscript for publication that analyzes defoliation effectiveness, changes to nutritional quality over time, and timing of phenology of medusahead and barb goatgrass to better inform the timing of grazing and mowing practices to reduce medusahead and barb goatgrass for increased effectiveness, “Optimal timing for medusahead and barb goatgrass control using phenology.” A version of this paper will be presented at the Society for Range Management Annual Meeting in Sacramento in February 2015.
Working with livestock producers, NRCS, and local cooperative extension livestock advisors, we planned and began implementation of medusahead management practices on 4 ranches in California and Oregon. This project addresses our Objective 4 and will be the basis for hosting training workshops in the field that will address Objective 3. At the Glenn County demonstration site we worked with the rancher to develop an IPM strategy for managing medusahead. Implementing this strategy, we broadcast seeded a 330 acre pasture with annual ryegrass in the fall of 2014. We will be comparing vegetation composition, productivity, and animal performance on this pasture to a comparable 380 acre pasture on the same property. This spring, both pastures will be grazed by cow-calf pairs at similar stocking rates to measure grazing days. Grazing will be at moderate intensities with a goal of about two months to reach forage utilization targets in each pasture. 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 site we worked with the rancher to develop an IPM strategy for managing medusahead. Implementing this strategy, we drill seeded three 25 to 30 acres with annual ryegrass in the fall of 2014. 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. This spring, all five of these pastures will be grazed with randomly assigned stocker cattle at the same stocking rates to measure grazing days as well as cattle weight gains. Grazing will be at moderate intensities with a goal of about two months to reach forage utilization targets. At the Crook County demonstration site, we conducted baseline vegetation sampling and we worked with the rancher to develop an IPM strategy for managing medusahead that will use targeted grazing and new water developments to manage animal distribution. At the Grant County demonstration site, we conducted baseline vegetation sampling and we worked with the rancher to develop an IPM strategy for managing medusahead. Implementing this strategy, we used targeted grazing and protein supplement blocks to manage animal distribution on approximately 600 acres for medusahead control. These demonstration ranches will be the sites where additional monitoring work will occur to determine success and evaluate costs and benefits of these treatments so that they can be used for workshops and learning tools to share experiences within the ranching community and among range professionals.
Additional outreach to the broader weed management community was achieved by presenting the demonstration ranch project the to California Invasive Plant Council Annual Symposium in Chico, California in a talk titled: “Addressing lessons learned from the NRCS Rangeland CEAP: establishing peer-learning networks for effective, low-cost medusahead control within the ranching community.” Emphasis was placed on the scale of potential invasive plant management that may occur if decision support and tools are available such that medusahead management practices are cost-effective and practical for ranchers to adopt while improving livestock production. Presentation slides for this talk are available at: http://www.cal-ipc.org/symposia/archive/pdf/2014/10_Brownsey.pdf.
- Broadcast seeding pasture in Glenn County in December 2014. Seeding occurred during a clear window between two significant rain storms. The second storm produced nearly 4 inches of rain over 2 days.
- Drill seeding pastures in Stanislaus County in November 2014. Significant germinating rains occurred the day after seeding was completed.
- Picture of baseline vegetation sampling in Crook County in June 2014.
- Landscape picture of medusahead dominance in Grant County in June 2014.
- Picture of baseline vegetation sampling in Grant County in June 2014.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The primary impact 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 will be accomplished through additional published research that addresses knowledge gaps on treatment effectiveness, cost-benefit of treatments, and effects of treatments on ecosystem services. The available research will be used to develop decision-support tools and guide on-ranch medusahead management demonstrations that will form 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.
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Rangeland Restoration Academic Coordinator
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