Invasive Plant Crisis Threaten Sagebrush Habitat Across the West
The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) is working to implement the Western Weed Action Plan, which was approved by WAFWA’s Sagebrush Executive Oversight Committee at the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference held in Denver last month.
The action plan was created by a consortium of invasive species experts, including land managers, biologists, scientists and representatives from state and federal conservation and agricultural agencies. The action plan addresses the pervasive spread of exotic invasive plants across the sagebrush biome in 11 western states in the U.S. Those states are Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota Utah, Washington and Wyoming
The expansion of invasive plants like cheatgrass is negatively transforming more than 100 million acres of native sagebrush rangelands across the West. This transformation is having a negative effect on wildlife, recreation, ranching, and water quality, to name but a few impacts. Besides outcompeting native plants, invasives like cheatgrass are also changing the frequency and severity of wildfires. In Nevada alone, over a million acres of rangeland burned in 2018.
There are some limited local success stories on managing invasive species, but for the most part, invasive species programs are fragmented, inconsistent and have proven to be ineffective at dealing with ecosystem degradation caused by the spread of invasives.
“The development and approval of the Western Weed Action Plan is potentially a watershed moment in the management and conservation of the sagebrush sea across the western United States,” said WAFWA Fire and Invasive Initiative Coordinator Ken Mayer. “For the first time state and federal wildlife management professionals, state and federal agricultural weed specialist, vegetation ecologists and rangeland specialists have worked together to create an action plan that sets a course of action to save critical sagebrush habitat from the perils of ecosystem change caused by invasive plants.”
Major natural resource management organizations, including WAFWA, the Western Association of State Departments of Agriculture and the National Association of State Departments of Agricultures have indicated they are supportive of the plan and are working on supporting resolutions that will underscore their commitment to its implementation.
“This action plan is designed to be a blueprint for coordinated collaborative invasive species management efforts across the West,” said Tony Wasley, Director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife and chair of the Sagebrush Executive Oversight Committee. “It’s heartening to see support from all of the stakeholders who are concerned about this invasive species crisis. Now that support for the plan is being manifested across the West, we all need to work together to implement it.”
The sagebrush biome supports hundreds of wildlife species, including the greater sage-grouse. The greater sage-grouse is an umbrella species, emblematic of the health of sagebrush habitat it shares with more than 350 other kinds of wildlife, including world-class populations of mule deer, elk, pronghorn, and golden eagles. In 2015, citing unprecedented landscape-scale conservation efforts, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that greater sage-grouse did not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. The collaborative, science-based greater sage-grouse conservation effort, in which WAFWA plays a key role, is the largest land conservation effort in U.S. history.
WAFWA news releases available at www.wafwa.org/news/
Since 1922, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) has advanced conservation in western North America. Representing 24 western states and Canadian provinces, WAFWA’s reach encompasses more than 40 percent of North America, including two-thirds of the United States. Drawing on the knowledge of scientists across the West, WAFWA is recognized as the expert source for information and analysis about western wildlife. WAFWA supports sound resource management and building partnerships at all levels to conserve wildlife for the use and benefit of all citizens, now and in the future.