A Bunch of Progress in Restoring Bunchgrass
The semi-arid bunchgrass ecosystems of the interior Pacific Northwest have undergone considerable changes in the past 150 years. These grasslands are typically dominated by perennial bunchgrass plant species and are home to incredible biodiversity.
Unfortunately, bunchgrass grasslands are one of the most degraded ecosystems in the interior Pacific Northwest, as cultivation, over-grazing, altered fire regimes, and the introduction of exotic plant species have taken their toll.
In collaboration with Oregon State University, the Pacific Northwest Research Station, and The Nature Conservancy, we are working to evaluate various techniques to restore these beautiful grasslands.
Specifically, we are interested in determining what methods work best to not only eliminate exotic plant species but also re-introduce the dominant native plant species in these ecosystems. This work has involved a series of experiments in northeastern Oregon, where different combinations of invasive plant control (mowing, herbicide application, etc.) are evaluated with various methods of native plant reintroduction.
What we have learned to date is quite interesting.
In the past, it has been thought that grassland degradation was caused primarily by exotic plant invasions that have displaced native species. Our results suggest this may not be the case and it appears one of the major keys to habitat restoration is not controlling the exotic species, but rather re-introducing native plant species to the area, which were extirpated in the past by other activities such as cultivation, wildfires, and overgrazing.
This work should serve as a guiding principal for conservation and management of these wonderful grasslands into the future.