Look at the slopes above Copper Hill Rd. See all that brown? That’s cheat-grass. You can see it all over the south facing slopes along Hwy 34 as well. It’s almost a mono-culture in some areas. It is not native to the Americas, but was first seen as early as 1861. Since then it’s slowly been consuming the West.
It causes wildfires, generating flames 10’ high; the seed heads can penetrate eardrums, the skin in paws and around the anus, and lodge in gums and eyes; it displaces native vegetation, reducing forage for deer and elk. And you’ll want to throw your socks away after having walked through a patch. Disturbed ground is its friend. A gopher mound, a building site, digging, drilling, bulldozing, anything that exposes raw dirt. It’s an annual that germinates in the fall, shoots up in the spring to seed, dies in July, only to start the cycle again in a couple of months. We caused this, probably through ignorance, digging up the ground and not realizing what that little patch of brown that appeared each summer meant. Some of us have started fighting it, but we’re losing. There aren’t enough soldiers in this war. Eventually the entire Retreat will be eaten by this obnoxious plant.
So what are our options now that it’s here?
1. Pull it up. This is very effective if you have a small patch. It takes diligence, and you won’t see results immediately, but you will prevail eventually if you keep at it. You’ll likely generate quite a bit of material, so pick an out of the way, level, protected spot on your property and dump it all there. It should be easy enough to police that area if any of it germinates. It takes about 4-5 years to deplete the seed bank.
2. Spray it. This is a good option if you have large areas or difficult slopes to treat. The chemical isn’t cheap, but it kills cheat-grass without killing the native vegetation.
It’s a pre-emergent, so you’ll see a reduction in wildflowers too, but if you don’t get rid of the cheat-grass you’ll lose them anyway. The recommended chemical is Plateau ($230/gal), or you can try the generic version called Panoramic ($68/qt). The county used to use it on the roadsides until it became too expensive, but you only need a small amount so perhaps you could share some with a neighbor. Twelve-ounce containers are available from CSU for $19, enough to treat two acres (call Rita at 970-498-5768). The time to apply is late Aug/early Sept, but you can apply in May if you use a surfactant.
3. Weedeat the area while it’s still green. This isn’t a great option, and your timing has to be perfect, but if you can keep the seeds from maturing, you’ll eventually knock it down to where hand-pulling is practical. Constant mowing, however, can be very effective. The plant is going to die in July regardless; you just have to keep it from seeding until then. 4. Pay someone to do these things. The Eagle Rock School kids are available on weekend afternoons for $12/hr (each). Call Natalie at 970-586-7128. Or perhaps you can get a company to come out here (good luck). Yes, various agencies are working on a bacterium that attacks cheat-grass roots and eliminates the plant over 4-5 years, but it doesn’t work alone. You still have to help it along by killing the surviving plants, applying the bacterium with a sprayer each year, and reseeding. And who knows when it will be commercially available.
I know, you didn’t buy this property to spend all your time fighting invasive weeds, especially if you’re a part timer, but you can’t ignore them. Maybe you don’t care about their effects on your land, but those seeds don’t stop at property lines. Your disinterest will damage your neighbor’s property or the national forest, not to mention what it does to wildlife and the serious fire hazard it presents. We must fight this together. If you need help identifying problem weeds and your options for getting rid of them, contact Peggy Burch or myself. I’m sure one of us can point you in the right direction.