VIRTUAL PRESS CONFERENCE: Conservation Groups, Scientists Raise Alarms over BLM Shutting Public out of Logging and Vegetation Removal Projects Across the West

Contact: Mathew Gross, Media Director, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 435-260-0435 (cell); mathew@suwa.org 

Potential Aggregate Effects are Staggering 

**Wednesday, July 29, 2020 – 1 pm MT / 3 PM ET  – Online**

Moab, Utah – The Bureau of Land Management has proposed multiple regulatory changes and large-scale initiatives to expedite the removal of native forests and sagebrush shrublands across the intermountain West. When approved, these proposals will allow the Bureau of Land Management to conduct large and controversial vegetation removal projects without notifying or inviting input from the public including the scientific community. Specifically, these proposals would allow the Bureau of Land Management to plan and execute vegetation removal actions without detailed National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review and public comment, undermine an already fragile public trust, and effectively shelve the critical role of science in some of the most unproven and controversial projects taking place on public lands today.

Event: Virtual Press Conference 

Why: The Bureau of Land Management, through multiple rulemakings and initiatives of historic proportion, will remove public and scientific input from vegetation removal projects on public lands.

When: Wednesday, July 29, 1 pm MT/ 3 pm ET

Where: Online at https://livewebinar.com/650-194-896/104a556f9b65d21ddbb47c665c79cf35 

Hosted by: Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Grand Canyon Trust, Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners, Juniata Valley Audubon Society, Maryland Ornithological Society, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology, Sierra Club-Toiyabe Chapter, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Western Environmental Law Center, Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians.

Presenters: Kya Marienfeld, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance; Vera Smith, Defenders of Wildlife; Scott Lake, Center for Biological Diversity; Dr. Roger Rosentreter, BLM Idaho State Botanist, retired. 

Available for Questions: Susan Jane Brown, Wildlands Program Director & Staff Attorney, Western Environmental Law Center; Laura Welp, Ecosystems Specialist, Western Watersheds Project and former BLM GSENM Botanist; Mary O’Brien, Utah Forests Program Director, Grand Canyon Trust.

To RSVP or if you have questions: email Mathew Gross at mathew@suwa.org 

More information:

The Bureau of Land Management manages the National System of Public Lands (NSPL) on behalf of the American people. At over 245 million acres, the NSPL accounts for 10 percent of the U.S. land base and is crucial for sustaining our nation’s natural heritage and biodiversity. Residing within the system’s expansive shrublands, grasslands, and low-elevation forests are 445 species listed or proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act and another 2,200 sensitive and rare species.

Since the 1940s , the Bureau of Land Management has spent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars manipulating native pinyon pine and juniper forests and sagebrush stands throughout the West (e.g., by chaining, mowing, masticating, herbiciding, burning, or seeding non-native forage species). Initially undertaken to enhance forage for wildlife and livestock, these projects have more recently been justified in the name of habitat, watershed restoration and fire prevention. But vegetation treatments are often controversial because the scientific evidence to support their efficacy is mixed at best. Increased public and scientific scrutiny in recent years has forced the Bureau of Land Management to stop or rethink a number of large-scale mechanical vegetation removal proposals.

Rather than responding to the increased scrutiny with greater attention to the implications of large-scale vegetation manipulation for native wildlife and ecological integrity, the agency is instead forging ahead with several initiatives of historic proportions which by design curtail public oversight and scientific review of its vegetation removal activities across the West. The Bureau of Land Management’s actions represent a case study of a broader push by the Trump administration to gut protections in NEPA, take the public out of public lands management, serve extractive industries and downplay science in decision-making.

In 2020 alone, the agency has approved or is close to approving:

  • A rulemaking that would allow the Bureau of Land Management to thin or cut down pinyon pine and juniper forests in multiple projects, each up to 10,000 acres in size, without environmental analysis, scientific oversight, or public review and input.
  • A rulemaking that would exempt vegetation removal projects (including chaining of sagebrush and other native vegetation) up to 4,500 acres in size from the public oversight and scientific review ordinarily required by the NEPA prior to a project being planned and executed.
  • A plan that authorizes in one broad brushstroke the clearing of up to 11,000 miles (667,000 acres) of 500-foot wide “fuel breaks” in forest, sagebrush, and grassland habitats across Utah, Nevada, Idaho, California, Washington and Oregon without scientific oversight, public review of projects, or accountability.  
  • A corresponding, even broader plan that would allow the agency to plan and execute vegetation removal projects across a 223 million-acre area in the same six states without scientific oversight, public review of projects or accountability.   
  • A rulemaking that would automatically greenlight logging on up to 5,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management-managed forest, as long as the agency determines the trees are “dead and dying” due to a variety of possible “disturbances” such as wildfire or forest pathogens. Again, this would be without any public oversight or scientific review, as would typically be required under NEPA.

The cumulative effect of the Bureau of Land Management’s proposals is potentially staggering. If the proposals highlighted in the press conference are approved, the Bureau of Land Management will be unleashed to remove vegetation from millions of acres across the western states without further involving the public or the scientific community and without accountability. This presentation will provide a historical and scientific overview of the Bureau of Land Management’s vegetation removal projects and a summary of the current proposals to weaken public oversight. It will also highlight the impacts these proposals will have on public lands and residents of the West and discuss possible paths forward. 

 

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