JACKSON, Wyo. — Teton County Weed and Pest District (TCWP) is initiating its “Cheatgrass Mitigation Program” beginning in August.

Cheatgrass is a highly invasive non-native annual grass with a quick growing life cycle giving it a competitive advantage over native vegetation. The mitigation program is a valley-wide, expansive effort with the goal of treating over 7,000 acres next month from Jackson to the Hoback Canyon.

TCWP launched a pilot program in 2017, covering slightly more than 300 acres. Following the success of that program, TCWP has put together a comprehensive plan to address the risks of invasive grasses with the support of partners including Wyoming Game and Fish, Teton Conservation District, Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Governor’s Big Game License Coalition, Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation, National Elk Refuge, and Bridger-Teton National Forest.

Thanks to these partners, the treatment program will cover more ground than ever before and make a significant positive impact on the ecosystem. Aerial application with helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) will allow for uniform coverage, cost-effectiveness, safety, and ecologically sensitive treatment of cheatgrass.

Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) germinates in autumn which makes treatment in August imperative. This invasive grass out-competes native forbs and grasses for water and nutrients. This significantly diminishes the quality of wildlife habitat, especially in the critical mule deer and bighorn sheep winter range.

Cheatgrass was primarily responsible for the quick spread of the fire near the National Museum of Wildlife last summer. Photo: Courtesy TCWP

Typically, this time of year brings with it the threat of wildfire, and cheatgrass is a major player. Cheatgrass dries early in the summer making it a serious fire risk, potentially leading to more frequent and larger fires and further habitat loss. A mere lightning strike can ignite an aggressive fire in dry cheatgrass-infested lands.

One example of this was the fire in early August near the National Museum of Wildlife Art that burned 89 acres.

TCWP will be treating south-facing slopes in Jackson—Miller Butte on National Elk Refuge, Crystal Butte, High School Butte, and hillsides along Highway 89 from the Town of Jackson to Hoback Canyon. These slopes are crucial for winter range and transitional habitat for elk, bighorn sheep, and mule deer.

Letters have been sent to landowners in the mapped regions for treatment, giving residents until August 1 to grant TCWP permission to treat on their property.

Jackson-to-Hoback Cheatgrass Overview Map. Courtesy image