BLM's Sagebrush Ecosystem Management Project--Not Ecological
^Pinyon-juniper woodlands in the Kawich Range, Nye County, Nevada.
December 2, 2016 - Central Nevada - Basin & Range Watch sent comments to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) opposing their Proposed Action for Sagebrush Ecosystem Management Project. The proposed programmatic action would be District-wide in the Battle Mountain District of central Nevada and include portions of Lander, Eureka, Nye, and Esmeralda Counties.
BLM says the goals for this project include "decreasing the severity and intensity of future wildland fires by reducing hazardous fuel loads, sustaining and improving sagebrush plant communities, and managing Phase I and targeted Phase II pinyon-juniper stands in wildlife habitat."
Improving sagebrush habitats by removing native old-growth pinyon-juniper woodlands is not supported by science. A better way to improve sagebrush communities would be to stop removing and degrading them, and fragmenting them with fracking wells and roads, transmission lines, and other developments.
BLM goes on to say, "The majority of the project will focus on pinyon-juniper tree removal utilizing a variety of different methods that will be determined at a site specific level. The proposed action will include criteria that will determine where and how treatments will be implemented at each different site. In addition to pinyon-juniper removal, the BLM is also proposing to conduct herbicide treatments to remove non-native plants, allow the seeding and planting of native species and permit the collection of native seeds. The primary purpose and need of this project is to protect and enhance sagebrush plant communities, restore the natural function of riparian areas, and to promote the health of pinyon-juniper stands to improve wildlife habitat and natural resources."
^Native old growth Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) in the Great Basin of Nevada.
Old Growth Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands Should Not Be Removed
Basin and Range Watch is concerned that the Bureau of Land Management plan to remove pinyon-juniper forests will result in the loss of old growth trees and will negatively impact the ecology of the regions targeted for tree removal.
We are also concerned about the large-scale use of herbicides to treat invasive weeds.
The plan appears to target a very large region including Monitor Valley, Hot Creek Valley, Little Stone Cabin Valley, Reese River Valley, Antelope Valley and a host of other regions.
The majority of the project will focus on pinyon-juniper tree removal utilizing a variety of different methods that will be determined at a site specific level. The proposed action will include criteria that will determine where and how treatments will be implemented at each different site. In addition to pinyon-juniper removal, the BLM is also proposing to conduct herbicide treatments to remove non-native plants.
We maintain that there is no such thing as senescent pinyon-juniper woodland, and that old growth pinyon-juniper communities should be maintained without clearing or treatment to preserve their diversity of species and natural community values.
Historical ecology studies suggest that some "expansion" of pinyon-juniper woodland may be in part due to recovery of the natural community to intensive resource extractive uses over more than 100 years from pioneering times into the early 20th Century. Mining use of charcoal cutting, fence construction, firewood cutting, and other uses may have reduced areas of pinyon-juniper woodland. These areas should be conserved and not managed to remove trees.
Removal of pinyon/juniper forest can change the natural ecology of the forest. Researchers Bristow et al. say: “Chaining treatments can be rapidly recolonized by trees and have the potential to create or amplify landscape-level shifts in tree species composition.” [See: A 40-Year Record of Tree Establishment Following Chaining and Prescribed Fire
Treatments in Singleleaf Pinyon (Pinus monophylla) and Utah Juniper (Juniperus
osteosperma) Woodlands. 2014. Nathan A. Bristow, Peter J. Weisberg, and Robin J. Rangeland Ecology & Management 67:4, pages 389-396.]
^Singleleaf Pinyon (Pinus monophylla).
Removal of pinyon-juniper woodland has many unknown impacts to wildlife. Conversion impacts are very poorly documented. A study from the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, Colorado State University demonstrated “marked differences in habitat use between chained sites and reference woodlands for most detected mammal species. Bobcat, mountain lion, American black bear, golden-mantled ground squirrel, and rock squirrel all showed a negative response to historically chained sites, indicating long-term effects of tree removal on these species. In contrast, habitat use of chipmunk, mountain cottontail, and coyote did not differ between chained and reference sites. For most species, habitat use was influenced by specific vegetation characteristics, such as proportion of tree cover, which could be factored into management decisions. By understanding the long-term consequences of tree removal for diverse mammal species, we are better equipped to adapt forest management practices to benefit species of both economic and conservation concern.” [See: Pinyon-juniper removal has long-term effects on mammals. 2016. Travis Gallo, Lani T. Stinson, Liba Pejchar. Forect Ecology and Management 377, pages 93-100.]
We are concerned that the BLM is misinterpreting the ecological condition of these forests as “disturbed” and that pinyon juniper forests are being looked at more like weeds than natural, old growth plant communities that promote and maintain functioning ecological systems with a diversity of plant and animal species.
Many of these trees are hundreds of years old and keep a natural record of past climates. They should not be removed in the name of false ecological restoration.
We would also like to know which herbicides would be used to remove invasive weeds. Plateau is commonly used to remove cheat grass, but comes with many risks and hazards. Large areas treated with this herbicide are subject to water contamination and public health risks. The Environmental Protection Agency has determined that Plateau is toxic to aquatic ecosystems and can be hazardous to humans and animals exposed to it. There is more information on Plateau here: http://www.arborchem.com/label-sds/sds_BASF_Plateau.pdf
Any Environmental Assessment should analyze the use of all potential herbicides and their toxicity to water, ecology and public health.
Pinyon-juniper woodlands in the Kawich Range, Nevada.
Basin and Range watch opposes any false “Ecological Restoration” plan that proposes to remove old growth, native pinyon-juniper forest. To imply that this would be better for the sage grouse or local ecology actually overlooks the impacts such an alteration would have on native ecosystems. The BLM should be looking at better alternatives to preserve the sage grouse such as limiting oil and gas leasing, limiting the spread of large-scale wind energy, managing the land for no new transmission lines or roads, and controlling livestock grazing in a more ecological way. Taking out native trees is not ecological restoration, but an attempt to mitigate other intrusive land uses. Furthermore, the large-scale use of industrial herbicides to control the spread of invasive weeds as a result of pinyon juniper removal poses an unnecessary risk to native plants, water quality, wildlife and public health. This should not be approved.