SHERIDAN —Vetenata and Medusahead are two invasive grasses that have Wyoming producers fighting for grazing land. Cheatgrasses are a familiar hindrance to most producers in the West, but the two hybrid grasses have ranchers, farmers and wildlife specialists joining forces to combat against the infestation.
According to Out West, LLC, Medusahead and Vetenata are not native to Wyoming and are able to outcompete native grasses. Both grasses create a high litter layer causing their seed to be the only one that can germinate, which over time chokes out all perennial grasses. They germinate in the fall, emerge in the winter and mature enough by spring. Because of their matted roots, they absorb the majority of the water and other resources perennial grasses need to mature. The grasses scatter across 150,000 acres of Wyoming’s terrain, as of 2019.
“The grasses have high silica content which makes them unpalatable for livestock, and they increase the fire cycle dramatically,” Luke Sanders, Sheridan County Weed and Pest’s supervisor said. “Cheatgrass can be grazed early and there’s some forage value to it, but it’s ultimately cheatgrass’ bigger, badder brother.”
Over the course of the last few years, Wyoming has eagerly declared war against Vetenata and Medusahead. This Tuesday, the Northeast Wyoming Invasive Grass Working Group hosted 170 people at the third annual invasive grass field tour to educate the threat producers are facing with invasive grasses.
The tour showcased the major progress Wyoming has made by investing in aerial spraying Esplanade, a pricey herbicide.
The spray doesn’t have an official range and pasture label, but the United States Environmental Protection Agency has deemed Wyoming, Montana and Idaho exempt due to emergency use. There is a two week waiting period after spraying before allowing livestock to graze. Esplanade lingers at the top of the soil, where the matted roots of Medusahead steal all of the liquid, slowly strangling the grass and allowing native grasses to migrate back to their natural habitat.
“You can control it with some other chemicals but it doesn’t stay controlled for more than a year or so until it starts to filter back,” Amber Marosok, Sheridan County’s Weed and Pest special projects manager, said. “But with this new chemical we can control areas for at least three years.”
Every acre they’ve sprayed they plan to continue to monitor and spray again in four years knowing the seeds of both Vetenata and Medusahead will continue to linger in the soil. Sheridan County Weed and Pest hope by year 10 the seed banks will become depleted and turn back naturally.
Untreated grasses only received 740 pounds per acre of production, compared to a field treated with Esplanade which was able to produce 2,140 pounds per acre of hay.
The herbicide alone costs $1,200 a gallon and it’s prescribed to use 5 ounces per acre. Combined with a $10 application fee per acre, it cost ranchers anywhere from $45 to $60 per acre to control the invasive grasses.
The large price tag isn’t scaring off ranchers to join the fight.
“You’re either gonna spray now or spray later,” Doug Masters, a rancher outside of Dayton said while speaking on the Producers Panel at the Invasive Grasses Tour. “I have a feeling I’m going to be fighting this for the rest of my life.”
Sheridan is taking large steps to eradicate the grasses completely.
“We’re the first ones to do the large landscape style treatments for these invasive grasses across the entire country,” Sanders said. “We’re kind of paving the way and there’s a lot of lessons to be learned as we go, but we are getting there.”