SageCon Partnership Invasives Initiative
A strategic approach to addressing invasive annual grasses, sagebrush habitat conservation, and rural economic benefit
Concept Document: March 14, 2020 Document Background and Purpose
This document is intended to describe the background, need and components of an Oregon-based initiative to address invasive annual grasses (IAG) in Oregon sagebrush rangelands. The objective is to seek internal agreement around content and form. The Oregon Sage-Grouse Action Plan (2015) outlines a comprehensive approach to the invasive annual grass problem through prevention, treatment, restoration, and containment through eight actions and 27 sub-actions (Table 1), as well as related
actions to address the problematic IAG-wildfire connection (Table 2). This document is informed by the Action Plan, key staff from partner agencies, and interviews of 20 SageCon partners implementing invasive grass management in Oregon. This document outlines the results of multiple working group sessions to define priority areas for working group actions and immediate priorities in 2020.
Invasive annual grasses are a primary threat to Oregon’s sagebrush ecosystem and related rural communities. Currently, positive efforts are occurring to address this issue, primarily at the local level by local actors. But no adequate solution is in sight to address this threat at a scale or pace commensurate with ecological, social, or economic needs. Because of the clear and negative connection between IAG as a driver of extreme wildfire, this is a compound threat. If the status quo persists, Oregon can expect continued decline in rangeland health, loss of sage-grouse and other sagebrush-dependent wildlife populations, as well as increased wildfire and declining viability of the ranching community.
We are smart enough to know what and where the problem is: Oregon has invested in and developed technical resources related to IAGs, wildfire risk, and ecological condition. Data, maps, and planning tools are increasingly sophisticated to inform and direct agencies and resources to the places that matter most. We also have programs designed to help: agencies, landowners and organizations are engaged in programs to tackle the IAG and wildfire problem, including voluntary conservation agreements, local county weed board efforts, and state and federal grant programs. We have seen successes at the project or ranch scale.
But … we are still losing far more than we are gaining every year. Why? We lack sufficient financial investment, policy flexibility, technology and information delivery, coordination, and capacity to effectively tackle the problem across the vast area affected and long-time frames needed to reverse negative trends. In particular, there is a need to improve success in maintaining and re-establishing perennial bunchgrass plant communities. This IAG effort would focus in multiple stages of response to
- Prevention – protecting areas where healthy bunchgrass communities are still in place and intervention has a high likelihood of preventing conversion to IAG dominated conditions.
- Containment and control – early detection and rapid response to prevent expansion.
- Restoration – treatment of areas invaded by IAGs but where restoration is still possible. Only under limited circumstances will areas with heavy IAG infestation be targeted, such as areas known as vectors of spread to other areas.
A Proposed Pathway Forward: The proposed IAG initiative would undertake action in order to help (a) reduce wildfire risk and impacts by improving ecosystem resilience, (b) produce the habitat that wildlife need to thrive, (c) provide healthy rangelands and livestock forage needed for healthy rural economies, and (d) leverage partnerships and investment that result in economic opportunities.
Potential Program Components
This effort would address key barriers to our ability and effectiveness in scaling restoration of healthy and diverse vegetation, including perennial bunchgrasses, in areas primarily threatened by invasive annual grasses. The strategic components may include the following, with items identified as initial priorities in red italics:
- Increase funding for IAG work
- Increase funding available to address IAG and related rangeland wildfire risk
- Facilitate bundling, sharing and leveraging financial support for restoration activities, with a mechanism to administer joint funds
- Apply funding toward strategic long-term, landscape scale, cross-boundary projects
- Address grazing management barriers
- Increase grazing flexibility, including ability to use livestock to manage for desirable vegetation and adaptively manage livestock in response to treatment needs, wildfires, and related periods of rest at critical times.
- Improve coordination of funding and priority implementation actions
- Prioritize and fund strategic early detection and rapid response and vectors of spread for species that are not yet widespread
- Prioritize treatments where restoration seedings will not be necessary
- Develop a shared geographic strategy across agencies
- Technology development, research and decision support
- Support research and development of new seed enhancement practices that improve seedling germination and establishment
- Develop a locally adapted plant supply and technology system to produce, store and deliver seeds and plant materials required to implement restoration at large scales.
- Develop decision support and prioritization tools that are fine-tuned to individual sites
- Organize a forum for practitioners and researchers to share knowledge and ideas about invasive annual grass management
- Address capacity needed to scale up restoration work
- Secure investment in local capacity such as weed management areas, ideally including hard funding for operations
- Support capacity for local prioritization and implementation of coordinated IAG actions, e.g. sage-grouse local implementation teams
Efforts to address the IAG problem benefit rangeland condition and ranching operations in many ways, including the reduction in fire risk, and fire risk reduction and fuels management is critical to successful rangeland management. However, the following items will not be an immediate focus of the invasives initiative due to lack of capacity and/or other efforts that are addressing these topics. The following topics are not a focus of the group at the current time:
- Fire operations and suppression (including Rangeland Fire Protection Associations)
- Fuel breaks
- Fire and fuels management policy, including post-fire burned area recovery planning