The Department of Defense (DoD) must constantly balance its military mission and its commitment to stewardship on millions of acres of ranges and training lands. The military mission requires that vegetation, primarily grasses, be as resilient to military training activities as possible to maintain realism and control soil erosion. The military faces increasingly difficult land management challenges as weapons technology improves and training and testing needs change. Complicating this challenge is the impact of continuing development, especially urbanization, outside the boundaries of military installations. The military is also faced with the need to promote indigenous species and control undesirable and invasive species on its lands.

Previously, there was little or no research on the genetics or wear-resiliency of low-maintenance rangeland plants. The prevalent method for controlling invasive plants on military lands was the use of herbicide applications, but these were reduced beginning in 2001. Research on pest or animal control of invasive plants is active in many public weed-control programs, but there is limited knowledge of the interrelationships of invasive and desirable plant species. To compete with the annual invasive or noxious weeds, sown species should germinate readily and have rapid growth rates soon after germination.

Overarching goals were both to develop plants more resilient to military training activities and to get native plants to establish more rapidly to return the land more quickly to military use. Through SERDP project RC-1103, researchers bred native and introduced grass and forb germplasms with improved establishment and seedling vigor. The potential invasiveness of the germplasms being developed were addressed by convening an independent review panel at Yakima Training Center (YTC) in 1999; the panel concluded that the plants being used were not encroaching into other plant communities and were not establishing monocultures. Researchers also developed ecological-bridge seeding methods to further enhance the ability of the modified germplasms to establish viable native plant stands as rapidly as possible. In the ecological-bridge work, investigations into root growth and establishment relationships among various species were used to select seed mixes of rapidly establishing introduced grasses and desired native grasses. The species of introduced grasses selected varies with climatic and land-use conditions, but the primary criterion is for this plant to be relatively short-lived so that a native vegetative stand is developed. When properly selected, the introduced grasses quickly protect the soil and create an environment in which the native grasses gradually establish and dominate the seeded stand. Near the end of the SERDP project, some large-scale demonstrations were begun and a workshop held for federal, state, and regional land managers as well as representatives of seed companies.


The objectives of this ESTCP project were to bring the new germplasms and modified seeding methods to widespread use on DoD and other federal lands by demonstrating and further validating the new plant materials and seeding methodologies, investigating the release of cultivars, initiating seed contracts, and developing a planting guide for military facilities in the Intermountain West. All of these objectives were met.

Demonstration Results

The modified germplasms may be used over a broad area of the Intermountain West Region of the United States. Through the demonstrations and evaluation in this ESTCP project, four new cultivars and two pre-variety germplasms have been released. The release notices are a form of announcement that these plants have been developed and are available for production and distribution. The notices define the species and note how they are different from the more important cultivars or germplasms of this species currently on the commercial market.

The seeding methods have proven successful on eastern and western ranges (Fort Drum, NY; YTC, Yakima, WA; and Fort Carson, CO). The plants required no maintenance after seeding; plant stands continued to thrive throughout the demonstration. Seed of three grasses was distributed to eight military facilities in the Intermountain West over 2 years, and one commercial seed contract has been established. A Planting Guide also has been published to aid land managers in selecting the proper seed mixture for their varying environmental and land use needs.

The modified germplasms and establishment methods will reduce the overall need for herbicide applications in controlling noxious weeds at seeding time, and they will decrease the number of reseedings required in some situations, allowing training to resume more rapidly, increasing the diversity of species on military rangelands, and reducing the likelihood of erosion.

Implementation Issues

The demonstrations provided applied information on the modified germplasms and seeding methods and were made available for inspection by land managers. Because there is no significant increase in cost to use the improved plants or seeding methods, the only other barrier to implementation of the technology would be the cost and availability of seeds of the improved varieties. To overcome this, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Plant Material Center in Aberdeen, ID, was contracted to produce seed of three germplasms specifically for military facilities. About 5,200 pounds of seed were produced in FY07 and FY08. Additional seed will be sold to commercial producers; one such sale resulted in 36,000 lb of “FirstStrike” slender wheatgrass seed for sale at a value of $270,000. To further increase awareness of the modified seeds and planting methods, consultations were provided; presentations made at conferences, workshops, and other appropriate forums; and a planting guide produced.