SciSun: Sheep on the Beat to Defeat the Cheat   Leave a comment

Remember Cheat Grass (Bromus tectorum), that aggressively invasive plant that’s taking over fields and meadows throughout the West? For years, researchers and land managers knew of only one way to keep this disruptive grass under control – herds of Domestic Sheep (Ovis aries) who are always ready and able to eat their way to greatness. The wooly warriors of grass eating, these rough-and-ready-ruminants are always willing to take on the tough jobs and show us all how outstanding they are in their field. Actually, they’re out-standing in the fields of Fort Ord National Monument, where the sheep are back for another season of grass eating, laying in the sun, and enjoying other sheep activities (like follow-the-leader) throughout the Spring and into Summer, until the grass is either eaten, or gone dry and lost most of its nutrients. Then, the sheep pack up and move on to their next job, departing just as quickly as they came, without even saying goodbye. Leaving only memories and poop. Lots of poop.

“We resent that implication.  Poop is natural fertilizer.  We're doing TWO jobs, for the cost of one.  Baa, baaa.”

“We resent that implication. Poop is natural fertilizer. We’re doing TWO jobs, for the cost of one. Baa, baaa.”

So while sheep are doing their job, scientists also are looking for ways to control Cheat Grass. A natural, native soil bacteria that’s currently being studied under the label ‘Strain ACK55’ (they’re scientists, not marketing experts!), has been discovered to stop Cheat Grass roots in the Spring, before the invasive grass has much of an opportunity to spread. Even better, ‘ACK55’ also helps control Medusa head and Jointed goat grass, two other invasive species that have been hard to manage and almost impossible to stop. And these are the only plant species the bacteria targets – native grasses, broadleaf plants, and crops like wheat and corn aren’t affected. Biopesticides like ‘ACK55’ (gotta get a better name) are much safer and effective than man-made herbicides, and will naturally decompose back into the environment after three to five years, leaving little or no trace – other than a land free of invasive grass.

Field research is under way to confirm this helpful bacteria is all it’s expected to be, and agencies from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service are very interested in the possibilities – and are putting in the time and money to move forward with this environmentally smart decision.

But does this mean our friends the sheep will be out of work? Without invasive cheatgrass and goat grass and bermuda grass to eat, do these fuzzy fighters face a furtive future? Well, cheatgrass is spreading at an astounding thousands of acres a day; at that rate, not even the most hungry sheep has to worry about job security.


Michonne Says: Those aren’t really sheep. Sheep climb on rocks and have curly horns and butt their heads together. These are Fuzzy-whites that live with men and say ‘BAAA’ and “BLEEE’ and always have wolf-dogs around. But everyone knows that.

Posted April 14, 2013 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

Tagged with , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: