Many land managers recognize that control of this invasive grass will require more than one management method.

The scientist who discovered ACK55 and devised a method to apply it is Ann C. Kennedy, a soil microbiologist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. Kennedy stresses ACK55’s safety. She says the native soil bacteria inhibit just three grass species: cheatgrass, medusa head and jointed goat grass. All are invasive species of the sage steppe habitat. Wheat, native bunch grasses and broadleaf plants are unaffected. Another advantage of

ACK55 is that applied bacteria don’t survive in the soil indefinitely; after three to five years, soil bacteria numbers return to pre-treatment levels.

By applying ACK55 in the fall, scientists aim to give the cold-loving native bacteria time to colonize the soil before the spring growing season. “One of the issues with cheatgrass is it greens up early in spring, so it gets a head start on other plants and outcompetes them,” says Gregg. “What we’re trying to do is remove that competitive edge so native plants can survive.”

Working with the EPA, the Fish and Wildlife Service and a team of resource scientists are moving toward federal registration of ACK55 as a biopesticide. Only then can a patented treatment be licensed for commercial sale and distribution. Diaz-Soltero sees licensing as five or more years off. “The registration process is long and it’s science,” she says. “We have to do the work systematically and thoroughly, dealing with challenges and questions as they arise.”

Biologists and land managers are anxious to keep this process moving. “We don’t have time to waste,” says Wetzel.

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