Better Plants for Military Bases
By Marcia Wood
November 9, 2001
For plants on a military training
site, getting run over by an assortment of hefty, wheeled or tracked vehicles
is all in a day's work. But, the Army has a secret weapon for restoring and
revegetating these sites when training maneuvers are over.
The military has enlisted the help of a team of
Agricultural Research Service plant
geneticists, led by Kay H. Asay, to develop training-resilient plants. Now in
its sixth year, the project is based at the ARS
Forage and Range Research
Laboratory in Logan, Utah. It is funded by ARS and the
Department of Defenses
Strategic Environment Research and Development Program, Washington, D.C.
Asay and colleagues are developing improved lines of native and introduced
grasses. The new plants are better able to withstand trampling by soldiers and
grinding and crushing by vehicles. Military training installations are some of
the most intensively used lands in the United States.
Antonio J. Palazzo, who works at the U.S. Armys Cold Regions Research and Engineering
Laboratory, Hanover, N.H., recruited Asay and colleagues because of their
impressive track record. The Logan work has resulted in new plant varieties
that stabilize erosion-prone slopes, landscape roadsides and provide forage for
livestock and wildlife.
Several of the Logan varieties are among the best performers in tests at the
Yakima Training Center in central Washington, and Fort Carson, south of
Colorado Springs, Colo. The findings from these sites should be applicable to
many other military bases throughout the West.
At Yakima, Snake River wheatgrass has been the top-performing native grass.
Logan scientists are working to make it even more resilient. Meanwhile the
scientists are working at Fort Carson to improve native western wheatgrass.
Other work at Fort Carson is yielding a promising blend that combines the Logan
lab's RoadCrest crested wheatgrass and the lab's Bozoisky Russian wildrye with
the Army's mix of natives like slender wheatgrass, Indian ricegrass, sideoats
grama and lovegrass.
ARS is the chief research branch of USDA.