The Murphy Complex Fire

Most of what burned was sagebrush. These critical sagebrush communities harbored Sage Grouse, Slickspot Peppergrass, pronghorn and a host of other imperilled wildlife whose habitat was already being degraded due to the effects of public lands ranching.

Real Natives Matter

The potential to re-establish native plant and wildlife communities at Jarbidge is only inhibited by a lack of thoughtful rehab and patience with the land. In fact, more and more, the science that describes the holistic and dynamic relationships within wildlife habitat re-affirms the necessity for a thoughtful humility in its management. When practiced, the forgiving attributes of the community itself ensures healthy and sustainable wildlife values.

Sage Grouse
Photo Courtesy: FWS Click for video

When we use the best available science to model the natural constitution of these ecosystems, rather than engineer them after devastating blazes like Murphy, we can help to ensure that our rehabilitation efforts work in conjunction with the natural conditions on the ground rather than against them.

Unfortunately, all-too-often agencies are unable to hear much more than the cries of ranchers who demand their public subsidies first ~ increased non-native forage production on public land and hasty redeployment of cattle ~ despite the environmental consequences.


Drag cursor over picture and CLICK PLAY to watch video

Drag cursor over picture and CLICK PLAY to watch video

For decades fire rehab has ignored the fragile and dynamic relationships of shrub steppe ecosystems by planting non-natives to maximize cattle forage. Now, politicians are doing the same. Regardless, the slow and inconspicuous developement of biological soil crusts continues to put land managers' efforts at staving off cheatgrass to shame.

These crusts, and the native communities that evolved to thrive alongside them are the best fortification against cheat devised - and it was the patient fortification of the land itself, not overly ambituous eco-engineering.

But our use of the land impacts these fragile wonders of nature. Road blading, fence building, water-developement trenching, and drill planting all rip open avenues of cheat which stretch seed-banks into public lands and move further into wildlife habitat behind cattle's stomping hooves.

This is an example of a "rehab" of the past using the same non-natives
on the same landscape as the politicized proposal at preset.

Non-native strongholds like proposed do not support wildlife populations.

This plot of land was spared the Murphy Blaze despite the contiguous fuel. Unfortunately, the wildlife was not spared the similar fate of gregarious relations between ranchers and the agencies charged with rehab.

Decades of livestock influenced management at Jarbidge has compelled BLM to plant Crested Wheatgrass (CWG), the tall exotic grass shown at left, for rehabilitation efforts. But rehab for what? Public land managers tout the plant for resisting cheatgrass incursion (that golden carpet surrounding the CWG) ~ it didn't work, and rarely does when cattle drag their feet ~, ranchers like it for inflating cattle stocking rates. The plant's heightened biomass (thus fuel) is measured right alongside other forage despite being a last resort for cattle, who prefer to "utilize" natives before reluctantly nibbling CWG.

Natives or Not ~ Cattle Must Be Removed

Politicians declare war on cheat, but without resting the land from soil disturbances by removing cattle, it won't matter what seed mix they use.

With cattle grazing across recently burned areas there is little hope that even native rehab efforts will succeed in warding off cheatgrass. As mentioned before, cattle prefer natives to non-natives and rarely eat cheat. New rehab projects subjected to grazing soon lose their vigor as cattle selectively subdue natives. The loss of intact development of soil crusts, which also help metabolize nutrients essential for native vigor, doom these rehab efforts to cheat. Efforts to combat cheatgrass without a willingness to adequately rest the rehab areas from soil-disruption sound good in the paper, but the test of time ~ a necessity politicians are unwilling to afford ~ rarely ends up favoring wildlife habitat.
















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BLM's Own Analysis of the Management Situation of Jarbidge
More of the same?
Key Findings

BLM's own assesment of Jarbidge indicates that the condition of the land is on a downward trend.

The findings also implicate livestock as a contributing factor in the decline of condition.

The condition of grazed land at Jarbidge was dire before the fire.

Agencies should consider the direct consequences of non-native seedings and the long-term consequences of higher stocking rates. Now, even after the non-native rehabilitations of the past have failed to produce their promised effect on the same landscapes, plans to do more of the same are being considered post-Murphy.

Cattle burned this land long before Murphy could

With Sage Grouse, Slickspot Peppergrass, and other wildlife values diminishing rapidly at Jarbidge and throughout the West, it is more important than ever that we seed with the natives that support wildlife best and give them the rest to properly establish.

Fire of the past brought with it the opportunity for rebirth. Wildlife numbers today are less forgiving given an excessive livestock presence. Wildlife can no longer afford to gamble on the spotty ambition of exotic species which heighten stocking rates and enable more cattle disturbance, let alone the political call for 'reconsidered' more of the same.

Agencies should reconsider what's been done, move to plant natives and let the land rest. The status quo is not working.

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