Cowboys and Aliens: Cheatgrass Invasion in Wyoming (2013-16)

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Jun 15, 2014
Author: 
Kristen Gunther

In this case study, students learn socio-environmental synthesis through the lens of a land management dilemma -- creating a management strategy for an alien plant species in Wyoming. Students are first given background on the invasion of cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) on western rangelands, and then introduced to the study area, a large tract of public land at risk of cheatgrass invasion after a severe fire. Students are assigned to one of three teams: residents of a town adjacent to the public land, economists, and ecologists, in order to represent the social, economic, and scientific implications of six different possible management strategies that the state could take on the parcel. After consulting and deciding on priorities and goals within these three groups, mixed groups will be created for students representing these different backgrounds to work toward a solution that satisfies the concerns of all parties. While students will be introduced to technical aspects of invasion ecology and ecosystem management (e.g. ecological concepts such as succession, and management strategies such as targeted grazing and chemical control), the broad goal of the project is to engage students with the sociocultural, economic, and ultimately political dimensions of different management approaches, and what possible communicatory strategies might exist for working with diverse groups of stakeholders. This case study would be most appropriate for an upper-division course in ecology, rangeland or wildlife management, botany, or natural resources and/or environmental studies.

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