Rye to the Rescue

One of the missions of MSU Extension is to provide landowners with guidance and resources to responsibly manage their property’s natural resources. Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT), one of our partners, also shares this mission. You may be familiar with the excellent trail work they do in and around Bozeman, but they also have a less visible yet equally important component on private land. Back in May, I had the opportunity to join GVLT on one of these projects.

GVLT staff Keegan Halsey, Peter Brown, and Lucas Cain (left to right) planting Basin Wildrye on a private ranch.

GVLT staff Keegan Halsey, Peter Brown, and Lucas Cain (left to right) planting Basin Wildrye on a private ranch.

A very common goal among landowners is to improve wildlife habitat on their property. Often, the first step is to replace non-native plants with native species that wildlife can use. The property I visited with GVLT was carpeted by an aggressive, non-native grass called Smooth Brome (Bromus inermis). Brome is great cattle forage, but it also excels at overwhelming native plants in disturbed areas and native wildlife have little use for it. Many of Gallatin County’s natural areas are overrun with brome.

Smooth Brome (Bromus inermis) is an invasive grass that chokes out native plants, lowering biodiversity.

Smooth Brome (Bromus inermis) is an non-native grass that reduces wildlife habitat by smothering native plants.

The site I visited was a low-lying pasture carpeted in brome. Because of the site’s tendency to flood, the landowner decided that it would be more valuable as wildlife habitat. In response, GVLT has been planting a variety of native plants that hopefully will compete with brome. On the day I joined them, we were planting Basin Wildrye (Leymus cinereus), a tall, robust grass that provides excellent cover, nesting habitat, and forage for wildlife.

Peter Brown inspects a Basin Wildrye () plug before planting.

Peter Brown inspects a Basin Wildrye (Leymus cinereus) plug before planting.

For four hours we speared holes into the dense mat of brome around us, gently filling them with Basin Wildrye seedlings. It may seem like a small act, but what excited me about it was the collaboration between a ranch and a local land trust. The patch of land we worked on is indeed a tiny speck on the landscape, but our state is covered with similar ranches, and it seems that a growing number are willing to try new ways to care for their land. I think that if organizations like GVLT and MSU Extension continue to build positive relationships with them, we have potential to impact a huge area…one plant at a time.

Keegan Halsey spears a mat of brome with a planting bar to create space for Basin Wildrye

Keegan Halsey spears a sea of brome with a planting bar to create a hole for Basin Wildrye.

If you’d like help restoring native plants on your own property, contact either

  • Brad Bauer, Natural Resources Extension Agent, Gallatin County, Montana State University Extension: brad.bauer@montana.edu, (406) 388-3213
  • Peter Brown, Stewardship Manager, Gallatin Valley Land Trust: peter@gvlt.org

For more information, visit: http://www.msuextension.org/gallatin/naturalresources.html or http://gvlt.org/land-conservation/landowner-resources/

Evan

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