Exotic grass taking over Big Bend

DSCN2652 (2)Pummel Peak with ice coating just east of Panther Junction Park Headquarters on March 4, 2019. (C) Rick LoBello


by Rick LoBello

Lehman’s lovegrass is one of the most common exotic species occupying large areas of Big Bend National Park between Panther Junction and Dugout Wells on the northside of the Chisos Mountains.  To most people driving through the park the grasses growing side by side with desert succulents like prickly-pear cactus, lechuguilla and yucca appear to be a natural part of the landscape.  Unfortunately, invasive plant species like love grass, yellow bluestem, Bermudagrass and Russian thistle often cause more damage than some pollutants.  Today invasive grasses and other exotic species rank second only to habitat destruction in affecting the biodiversity of the park and the entire world.

The number of introduced species are increasing in the United States and elsewhere because of increased trade and travel.   Lehman lovegrass is from South Africa and was first introduced in the Southwest in the 1930s to help landowners restore grasslands damaged by drought and overgrazing.

What can be done?   First off, the National Park Service needs increased funding if it is going to have any chance of conserving the biological diversity of one our most cherished natural areas.  But it is not just the National Park Service that needs more help, increased conservation funding is needed around the world.

When they are able to establish themselves in new ecosystems, exotic species become predators, competitors, parasites, hybridizers, and diseases of our native and domesticated plants and animals.

To many people the number of exotic species invading ecoregions like the Chihuahuan Desert and the Greater Big Bend is so intense we may have no choice but to give in to changes that we cannot control.  Resource management personal working on the front lines hope they can make a difference.   Let’s connect with them often to see how we can help.