Rangeland Restoration on the Channel Scablands of Eastern Washington

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: range improvement
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research, technical assistance
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency
  • Farm Business Management: risk management
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures


    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).

    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.