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Beargrass in focus


Beargrass in bloom. Photo courtesy of Chris Schnepf,
University of Idaho.

Posted by Yasmeen Sands

Pacific Northwest Research Station, U.S. Forest Service

Imagine a plant that provides food, habitat and raw material for an array of wildlife species — from bees and bears to deer and elk. In the case of beargrass, you don’t have to imagine because it does all that and more.

In fact for Native Americans, beargrass has longstanding cultural value and is harvested for use in basketry and regalia and for medicinal and decorative purposes.

For the first time, landowners, managers and harvesters have a comprehensive report about this ecologically, culturally and economically important plant found on ranges across much of the Western United States.

“Beargrass is emblematic of a web of natural and cultural diversity in the West. This means that organisms and processes—like people, plants, and pollinators—are interrelated,” said Susan Stevens Hummel, U.S. Forest Service scientist and a lead author on the beargrass report.

Among the highlights, the report identifies critical knowledge gaps and areas for future research. The report also documents how changes in disturbance — including fire — may affect the species across its range.

Hummel, together with her coauthors at the Xerces Society and the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, found that historical and contemporary land use practices in beargrass habitat, combined with the rise of the commercial floral greens industry, are creating shifts in disturbances within beargrass habitat.

“We found that beargrass is experiencing decreased disturbance from natural and human-caused fire, but increased disturbance from leaf harvest by the floral industry,” Hummel said. “By addressing some of the key issues identified in the report, forest management practices can be developed to help sustain the ecological web of which beargrass is a part.”


US Forest Service
Last modified March 29, 2013

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