Land managers choose diverse solutions to downy brome problem

Farm Forum

Downy brome is an aggressive, invasive winter annual grass and may be the most abundant plant in the western United States. Ranchers and natural resource professionals agree: downy brome, also called cheatgrass, is a problem. The consensus, however, ends there. These two groups differ in their level of concern about this weed and on what methods they use to control it.

The authors of an article published in the current issue of Invasive Plant Science and Management surveyed natural resource professionals (NRPs) and ranchers in Colorado and Wyoming about their knowledge and management of downy brome. Using focus group discussions and written surveys, the authors found that ranchers tended to be somewhat less concerned about downy brome than NRPs. These practitioners also had different approaches to combating downy brome. Ranchers preferred to graze infested lands in early spring, whereas NRPs often relied on seeding desirable grasses and/or applying herbicides.

The surveys also revealed similarities between these two groups of practitioners. Generally, both groups were most likely to adopt new or innovative management practices when the new measures were compatible with existing operations. Additionally, both groups expressed the need for more information about preferred control methods and alternative solutions to controlling downy brome.

Competing priorities and limited resources were the top constraints for successful downy brome management. For both ranchers and NRPs, other weeds are currently a higher priority and limited labor is available to address downy brome. Since downy brome is not officially listed as a high priority noxious weed in CO or WY, ranchers and NRPs put more effort and money into controlling other noxious weeds. Ranchers also cited lack of information about effective management tools, while NRPs indicated that long-term treatment is not financially viable.

The authors concluded that downy brome management would likely improve if the grass was listed as a noxious weed for which eradication is mandated, and thus more tax dollars might be allocated to effective management. Improved education, including clear identification procedures and information about downy brome biology and ecology, would also help prevent its spread. Ranchers and NRPs should also be better informed about management methods of control that require minimal labor and cost. To conclude, the authors stated that both groups need decision-support tools to help assess the economic and ecological trade-offs associated with various downy brome management strategies.

The full text of the article “Managing downy brome (Bromus tectorum) in the Central Rockies: Land manager perspectives,” Invasive Plant Science and Management, Vol. 6, No. 4, 2013, is now available at