Thriving cheatgrass poses high wildfire danger to region

Thriving cheatgrass poses high wildfiredanger to region

21 July 2006

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Cheatgrass is flourishing in some areas scorched two years ago by the Waterfall Fire and presents a high fire danger this summer, a U.S. Forest Service official warned recently.

Grasses planted at higher elevations within a year after the Waterfall Fire have taken root and cheatgrass is not flourishing there, Pemberton said, but that could change.

The watershed seems to be recovering from the Waterfall Fire as water used for drinking in Carson City needs less treatment, city officials said. And the battle against noxious weeds continues as 100 goats were brought in from Fallon to eat Russian knapweed in Kings Canyon Meadow.

The Linehan Complex fire was largely cheatgrass-driven and a situation exists for a similar fire in the lower areas west of Carson City, Pemberton said.

“This is just one of those years where it’s a bumper cheatgrass crop,” Pemberton said. “There’s a lot out there.” Cheatgrass, dry and brown during the heat of summer, ignites easily and quickly carries flames to brush, Pemberton said.

Many believe the Waterfall Fire of 2004 left little to burn, Pemberton said, but the 30 feet to 100 feet of defensible space around homes close to wildlands is as important as ever.

In April, the U.S. Forest Service planted 100,000 Jeffrey pine seedlings and 30,000 Ponderosa pine seedlings in the burned area. They were covered in plastic to protect them.

“Hopefully those guys will come out of their shelter in a year or so and start shadowing out some of that cheatgrass,” Pemberton said.

The Forest Service brought in sheep to eat cheatgrass earlier this year when the cheatgrass was green, and that program will probably be repeated next year, Pemberton said.

The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Service is using 100 goats in Kings Canyon Meadows beginning this weekend to eat Russian knapweed that invaded after the Waterfall Fire, said JoAnne Skelly, the Carson City/Storey County extension educator.

Russian knapweed, which looks like a purple daisy, can damage wildlife habitat and it’s also poisonous to horses, although goats, sheep and cattle can eat it, Skelly said. Crews began putting up a fence to hold the goats last week and the goats will graze there about a month, Skelly said.

Meanwhile, the water coming off the mountainside is much clearer now, said Larry Werner, city engineer for Carson City.

“That tells us things are pretty well stabilized up in the headwaters,” Werner said. “We’re not seeing the turbidity in the stream flow that we saw a year ago.”

The clearness of the water is one gauge to measure the recovery from the Waterfall Fire, Werner said.

“We’re very close to having things to the point where we can say it’s back to normal,” Werner said. “Probably in the next year it will tell us for sure.

But things are looking pretty good.”



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