MEDIA RELEASE: BLM Halts Massive Juniper Cutting Project in Idaho

For Immediate Release: August 1, 2018
Contact: Scott Lake, Western Watersheds Project
(208) 429-1679; scott@westernwatersheds.org

BLM Halts Massive Juniper Cutting Project in Idaho

BOISE, Ida. — Today, in response to Western Watersheds Project’s administrative appeal of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Bruneau-Owyhee Sage-grouse Habitat Project (BOSH), the agency voluntarily withdrew its decision to destroy more than half a million acres of juniper in Owyhee County, Idaho. The project would have permanently damaged some of the most important sage-grouse habitat in the region.

“Today’s decision is a win for sage-grouse and all other species that depend on Idaho’s unique and imperiled sagebrush ecosystem,” said Scott Lake, Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project. “When BLM authorized BOSH, they didn’t weigh the limited benefits of this project against the significant environmental costs.”

BLM filed a motion last week asking the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA)—a judicial body within the Interior Department tasked with hearing administrative appeals—to set aside the May 31 decision and remand it back to the agency for further analysis. IBLA granted BLM’s motion earlier today. The Board’s decision means BLM must take a closer look at the project’s adverse impacts, including its potential to spread cheatgrass and other invasive species.

“BLM has agreed to study the impacts of juniper removal more carefully, and we fully support that choice,” Lake said. “BLM’s previous analysis left a lot of questions unanswered, especially about the impacts of livestock grazing and other ongoing land uses in the area.”

Livestock grazing degrades sage-grouse habitat by spreading invasive grasses, removing critical nesting cover, and damaging the streamside habitats the birds depend on for brood-rearing. Sage-grouse populations in the BOSH project area have declined recently due to habitat loss. Meanwhile, according to WWP’s estimates, approximately three-quarters of BLM grazing allotments in the area are failing the Idaho Standards of Rangeland Health, largely because of livestock impacts to sage-grouse habitat.

BLM also ignored the considerable scientific controversy surrounding juniper removal projects. Juniper removal has not been shown to benefit sage-grouse over the long-term, and even BLM admitted that BOSH would produce only “minor to moderate benefit[s]” for sage-grouse compared to “no action.” Juniper removal does, however, help spread invasive grasses like cheatgrass by disturbing the soil and opening up spaces for non-native species to establish. Because of its role in causing hotter, more frequent wildfires, cheatgrass is considered one of the leading threats to sage-grouse in Idaho.

“Today’s decision means BLM has an opportunity to take a more objective look at sage-grouse conservation in southern Idaho,” Lake said. “BLM can’t effectively protect sage-grouse without addressing the primary threats, and in Idaho that means doing something about cheatgrass, fire, and livestock impacts.”

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