Prioritizing effective and sustainable management approaches for cheatgrass and ventenata in Montana rangelands

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2024: $349,911.00
Projected End Date: 04/30/2027
Grant Recipient: Montana State University
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Lisa Rew
Montana State University
Dan Atwater
Montana State University
Dr. Katherine Lee
University of Idaho
Dr. Jane Mangold
Montana State University
Dr. Catherine Zabinski
Montana State University


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial)


  • Pest Management: weed ecology

    Proposal abstract:

    Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is a notorious invasive,
    non-native annual grass, invading large areas of the sagebrush
    steppe and western rangelands. Ventenata (Ventenata
    ) is a more recent non-native annual grass invader to
    these ecosystems, is less palatable than cheatgrass and capable
    of replacing cheatgrass in some areas. Where these invasive
    annual grasses dominate, they reduce forage production for cattle
    and habitat quality for wildlife. Restoring highly infested
    rangeland is both difficult and resource intensive. Targeting
    areas with low to moderate and patchy levels of infestation could
    prevent further expansion before the system reaches the no-return
    tipping point. Similarly, a new strategy “Defend the Core”
    suggests targeting areas of low-moderate invasive grass invasion
    because these areas can see the greatest recovery and economic
    benefit. Much of the northeast region of the sagebrush steppe and
    other grasslands (e.g., Montana, Wyoming, central-north Idaho)
    falls into this low to moderate abundance category, and producers
    in this region are concerned about invasive annual grasses
    expanding and want help now, before the problem worsens.

    Our goal is to develop a prioritization and decision framework
    tool to help producers select the most appropriate management
    strategies to control cheatgrass and ventenata and ensure
    recovery of desired vegetation, to improve the sustainability of
    their ranches and livelihoods. Because management effectiveness
    differs according to the degree of invasion, site conditions
    (e.g., slope, native plant cover) and control strategy used
    (herbicide, soil amendment, restoration seeding) these factors,
    along with cost-benefit analysis, will be the basis of the
    decision tool. The data for this tool will come from current and
    future studies. We will continue evaluating the effect of
    integrated weed management strategies to control cheatgrass
    (WSARE SW20-915) and ventenata (WSARE GW22-237) at our study
    sites. Our collaborators have suggested we take the best
    management strategies and apply them on a larger scale than our
    current plots to further evaluate their effectiveness, at six
    sites in southwest and west Montana. Because of the interest from
    our producer collaborators and other ranchers in soil amendments,
    we have added them to our experimental treatments. At our larger
    scale study, we will assess not only invasive and desired plant
    response but also forage quality and soil health. 

    With this multi-partner, producer-driven project, we will develop
    a prioritization and decision framework tool that incorporates an
    economic analysis of trade-offs created by management strategies
    with landscape and climate attributes for producers, land
    managers and other interested stakeholders. The whole project
    team will participate in the research and education objectives,
    including dissemination of our research results and decision tool
    using an array of approaches (field days, seminars and
    presentations at local and regional meetings, web posts, fact
    sheets, university classes, and scientific manuscripts). Short
    and longer term adoption will be monitored by our extension
    specialists. Project outcomes will guide selection of the most
    effective ecologically and economically sustainable management
    approaches for invasive annual grasses for our rangelands in
    southwest and west Montana, the larger northeast region of the
    sagebrush steppe and northern Great Plains of the American West.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Research Objectives

    1) Quantify the effectiveness of different management strategies
    to control invasive annual grasses (cheatgrass and ventenata) and
    increase desired vegetation.

    2) Large plot evaluation of the most effective management
    strategies to reduce invasive annual grasses and increase desired

    3) Develop a prioritization and decision framework tool to manage
    annual invasive grasses and desired vegetation for ecological and
    economical sustainability.


    Education Objectives 

    1) Develop regular communication with our collaborating producers
    to ensure information sharing.

    2) Create outreach products, on conditions where cheatgrass and
    ventenata are most likely to reach high abundance, the efficacy
    of different management practices to control them, and the
    prioritization and decision framework tool.

    3) Demonstration of treatments effects.

    4) Dissemination to future producers, managers and the general

    5) Publication of research outcomes.

    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.