Conservation Groups Fight Massive Pinyon-Juniper Chaining Project in Nevada

For Immediate Release

August 17, 2018

Contact: 

Laura Cunningham, Western Watersheds Project, (775) 513-1280;

lcunningham@westernwatersheds.org

ELY, Nev. – Western Watersheds Project (WWP), Basin and Range Watch (BRW), and Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed an administrative appeal last week opposing a huge native pinyon-juniper and sagebrush removal project proposed for public lands in eastern Nevada, including important sage-grouse habitat. The Egan and Johnson Basins Restoration Project would affect over 84,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) public land, part of which is along the scenic Pony Express Historic Trail.

“Any attempts to ‘improve’ habitat with large chaining projects will result in ecological damage to native flora and fauna. These chaining projects scrape the ground bare, remove thousands of acres of functioning native habitat and create unsightly visual eyesores on the landscape that last for years,” said Kevin Emmerich, Co-Founder of Basin and Range Watch.

The historic Pony Express Trail is an important part of American history, as explained by the National Park Service (https://www.nps.gov/poex/index.htm). Early riders traversed the 1,800 mile-route in 10 days, from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California the Pony Express. In operation for only 18 months between April 1860 and October 1861, the Pony Express nevertheless has become synonymous with the historic Western landscapes. In the era before electronic communication, the Pony Express was the thread that tied East to West.

“We have visited these mountains and valleys and found old-growth pinyon-juniper woodlands with sagebrush, native bunchgrasses, and carbon-storing biological soil crusts,” said Laura Cunningham of Western Watersheds Project. “These plant communities provide crucial cover and food for sage-grouse, but chaining down the sagebrush, applying herbicides, disturbing soils, and potentially seeding with non-native livestock forage plants could eliminate these native plant species.”

WWP, BRW, and CBD have been working in the Great Basin to conserve sage-grouse habitat and increase sage-grouse populations on public lands for years. Sage-grouse depend on sagebrush and native plants for both cover and food. Native grasses as bluebunch wheatgrass, Sandberg bluegrass, needle-and-thread grass, Indian ricegrass and alkali sacaton grow in this area without human intervention. Wildflowers abound, including phlox, buckwheat, tansy-aster, blue flax, and penstemon. The dense foliage provided by pinyon and juniper trees provide hiding and thermal cover for elk and deer as well as high-quality cover for birds during bad weather. Pinyon-juniper woodlands have been documented to provide breeding habitat for at least 43 species of birds, including Western scrub jay, pinyon jay, juniper titmouse, bushtit, Bewick’s wren, and ash-throated flycatcher.

BLM is proposing to chainsaw native conifers and drag huge anchor chains using bulldozers through these native habitats, with an apparent undisclosed goal of increasing livestock forage. Heavy mechanical projects result in disturbance that can break “old-growth” sagebrush-native bunchgrass-forb-biological soil crust community integrity and shift it to a disturbed soil surface where biological crusts are degraded, and cheatgrass invades the open early seral sites.

“The science is unclear on whether native pinyon-juniper plant communities are expanding unnaturally, or rather recovering naturally from a long history of human impacts,” Cunningham said. “BLM needs to slow down with clear-cutting these native woodlands, and work toward reducing impacts to sage-grouse from human-caused disturbance, livestock grazing, cheatgrass invasion, and herbicide spraying.”

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