Are early summer wildfires an opportunity to revegetate exotic annual grass-invaded plant communities?
Medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae [L.] Nevski) is an exotic annual grass invading western rangelands. Successful revegetation of invaded-plant communities can be prohibitively expensive because it often requires iterative applications of integrated control and revegetation treatments. Prescribed burning has been used to control medusahead and prepare seedbeds for revegetation, but burning has been constrained by liability concerns and has produced widely varying results. Capitalizing on naturally occurring wildfires could reduce revegetation costs and alleviate liability concerns. Thus, our objective was to determine if early summer wildfires and fall drill seeding could be used as a treatment combination to decrease medusahead and increase perennial and native vegetation. Treatments were evaluated pretreatment and for 3 yr postfire at six sites and included (1) an early summer wildfire combined with a seeding treatment (burn and seed) and (2) a nontreated (no burn, no seed) control. Perennial grass density was 4.6- to 10.0-fold greater in the burn-and-seed treatment compared to the control in the first 3 yr posttreatment (P<0.05). Exotic annual grass density and cover in the third year posttreatment were lower in the burn-and-seed treatment than in the control (P<0.05). However, exotic annual grass density was still >130 individuals.m-2 in the burn-and-seed treatment. The density of exotic annual grass is of concern because over time medusahead may displace perennial grasses and annual forbs that increased with the burn-and-seed treatment. Though not directly tested in this study, we suggest that, based on other research, the burn-and-seed treatment may need to incorporate a preemergent herbicide application to further suppress medusahead and increase the establishment of seeded vegetation. However, it appears that early summer wildfires may provide an opportunity to reduce the cost of integrated programs to revegetate medusahead-invaded plant communities.