Cheaters and cheatgrass



Everybody hates cheatgrass, though it must be admitted that the fluttery plant with the prickly seeds succeeds on sagebrush lands like nobody's business. A Eurasian invader, it pops up in the spring before native plants do, spreads like wildfire -- and burns like wildfire, too. As Wyoming Wildlife magazine put it, cheatgrass "simply loves a good fire." And after it burns, it reseeds fast, crowding out the native grasses that wildlife need to flourish. Over 100 million acres throughout the West have already succumbed to cheatgrass, and in some states the weed has created a vast desert monoculture. Wyoming biologist Steve Kilpatrick says, "If I was a habitat biologist in Idaho, I think I would just shoot myself -- thousands and thousands of acres of sagebrush community with a cheatgrass understory." But, wait: There is a silver bullet in a familiar four-legged creature called the cow, or so says a new study from the University of Nevada, Reno. It used to be assumed that cattle ate cheatgrass only in the spring, before it went to seed, but researchers have found that cows will also eat the plant in fall and winter, after its needle-like seeds have dropped. They also found that grazing during that time significantly stopped the weed from spreading. reports that the cattle would still need to get a protein supplement while they're noshing on cheatgrass, but the cost -- 40 to 50 cents a day -- was considerably cheaper than hay at $1.50 a day. One Nevada rancher, however, said if cows were invited onto public land to eat cheatgrass, the arrangement should be considered "bonus feed" -- meaning that it wouldn't count against a ranch's AUMs (animal unit months) for a federal grazing allotment.


The moral of the story is: Don't leave your elk out overnight. When two hunters who'd bagged an elk in a remote area near Hungry Horse, Mont., came back the next day to retrieve it, they found that other predators, mindful of the adage "Finders keepers," now considered the carcass their own. A pack of wolves suddenly surrounded the men as they tried to load their elk onto two horses. Dropping the elk, the men later described how they fled on horseback with the wolves in pursuit, howling and barking and driving the horses berserk: "The horses were totally out of control, damn near dragging us away," one of the hunters told the Hungry Horse News. The impromptu "rodeo" went on for an hour and a half, even though one of the hunters shot and killed one of the wolves. A second attempt at retrieving the elk didn't work either; when the men rode back the next day, they found that a grizzly bear had pre-empted both wolves and men, claiming the carcass as its own.

High Country News Classifieds