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Gearing Up to Battle Invasive Wiregrass in Wyoming

University of Wyoming associate professor Brian Mealor is working to mitigate a new outgrowth of invasive wiregrass near Sheridan. (University of Wyoming)
University of Wyoming associate professor Brian Mealor is working to mitigate a new outgrowth of invasive wiregrass near Sheridan. (University of Wyoming)
July 7, 2016

SHERIDAN, Wyo. - Ventenata dub, otherwise known as wire grass, is back in Wyoming, and if left to its own devices, the invasive species could pose big problems for ranchers and farmers.

So far some 70 acres of the non-native species have been identified near Sheridan.

Brian Mealor, an associate professor at the University of Wyoming Sheridan Research and Extension Center, says managing invasive weeds is more than just an agricultural concern.

He says wiregrass can increase the potential for wildfires in dry seasons and limit forage areas for wildlife.

"So all of these things that seem very specific begin to add up, and they have larger impacts at the ecosystem level that affect anything from economics to wildlife habitat to recreation to agricultural production," he explains.

Mealor says the dense plant has taken over nearly 50 percent of some of the acres recently surveyed by his team.

He adds that more than 9 million acres of rangeland burned in the U.S. last year, at a cost of up to $1 billion, and he says a lot of those wildfires were driven by non-native invasive plant species.

Mealor says how the plant got to Wyoming remains a mystery. One theory is that it arrived as packing material back when straw was used instead of Styrofoam peanuts.

He says the strategy to beat back the invasive species would likely involve limiting the movement of infested hay, and active treatment using herbicides.

He says it all begins with trying to map out the full extent of the areas already impacted.

"In the state of Wyoming, this is the only place that we know that it exists,” he points out. “If we can be proactive in trying to limit its spread to this known location, then hopefully the impacts across the landscape will be limited as well."

Mealor notes the invasive culprit looks a lot like wheat, with seedpods that sit on top of thin stalks.

He is encouraging anyone who spies wiregrass on rangeland to call his team to investigate. That number is (307) 673-2856.



Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY