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Increased abundance of non-native cheatgrass in the Intermountain West is driving a cycle of more frequent and larger fires and the further expansion of cheatgrass. A new study explores the relationship between cheatgrass occurrence and fire, livestock grazing, topography, and precipitation.

Cheatgrass has increased the extent and frequency of fire and has negatively affected native plant and animal species across the Intermountain West. The area burned in the Great Basin has increased by as much as 200% since 1980, accompanied by over US$1 billion in fire-suppression costs. However, the strengths of association between cheatgrass occurrence or abundance and fire, livestock grazing, precipitation, and elevation are not well understood. To address this need, researchers funded in part by the Southwest and Northwest CASCs examined 14 years of data from 417 sites across the central Great Basin to identify the effects of livestock grazing, fire, precipitation, and topography on cheatgrass occurrence and prevalence. A key result is the finding that livestock grazing corresponds with increased cheatgrass occurrence and prevalence, regardless of variation in climate, topography, or plant community composition.

This research was funded in part by the Northwest and Southwest CASC project: Relations Among Cheatgrass, Fire, Climate, and Sensitive-Status Birds across the Great Basin

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