Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is a highly invasive, non-native grass that threatens wildlife habitat, migratory corridors, and agricultural production in the sagebrush ecosystems of the western U.S. Furthermore, it creates an increased risk of wildfire that threatens infrastructure and human safety. Once an area becomes heavily invaded by cheatgrass, restoration to a native state is difficult and expensive. Early-detection, rapid-response herbicide treatments are an effective way to manage cheatgrass when infestations are small, but they require the ability to detect small patches of cheatgrass across vast acreages.
The FWS Region 6 Division of Scientific Resources is working with remote-sensing researchers at the University of Montana to use high-resolution multispectral imagery from the WorldView satellites to map cheatgrass on Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and other areas within the Centennial Valley of Montana. This is part of an early-detection, rapid-response management effort being carried out by multiple Federal and State agencies, NGOs, and private landowners. In addition to being used to locate cheatgrass patches for treatment, the imagery will also be used to assess the effectiveness of herbicide applications post-treatment.
Helicopter preparing to carry out aerial herbicide treatment of cheatgrass on the small hill in the foreground. The blue rectangle is a tarp placed over a portion of the cheatgrass patch to learn about the effectiveness of treatments and impact on native plants.