For Immediate Release, March 14, 2023
Adam Bronstein, Western Watersheds Project, firstname.lastname@example.org, (541) 595-8034
Laura Welp, Western Watersheds Project, email@example.com, (435) 899-0204
ELKO, Nev.— Yesterday, the Bureau of Land Management Elko District, Wells Field Office released a 310-page Preliminary Environmental Assessment for a large juniper deforestation project called the O’Neil PPA Project, kicking off a 30-day public comment period. Scoping for the project first started in 2016. The Bureau is seeking authorization to conduct vegetation treatments and “habitat improvements” in sage-grouse habitat across vast areas of northeast Nevada. The project area is more than 2.4 million acres with vegetation treatments expected on 208,000 acres. The Bureau is planning to masticate, mow, chain, spray herbicides and reseed across 15 “conifer removal” units in occupied sage-grouse habitat, and create 413 miles of linear fuel breaks.
The stated purpose and need of the project is to meet the habitat requirements that flow from the Sage-Grouse Approved Resource Plan Amendments that were released in 2015, with the aim of “protecting and preserving GRSG and its habitat on BLM-administered lands in Nevada and northeastern California.” The Bureau claims the project would “protect, improve, and restore habitat for various wildlife species, especially Greater sage-grouse”.
“The Bureau of Land Management in Nevada is on a juniper-removal bender across the state,” said Adam Bronstein, Director for Nevada and Oregon with Western Watersheds Project. “Bulldozing down established pinyon-juniper stands has a poor track record in recovering sage-grouse and helping other species like elk or mule deer. We know, as does the Bureau, that the primary goal of these projects is to increase forage production for domestic livestock, not to improve habitat for the grouse.”
While some studies have shown that targeted removal of trees can improve sage-grouse habitat success, this outcome depends largely on the ecological site potential and the phase of the pinyon-juniper community. The removal of scattered trees in otherwise intact sage-steppe might improve nesting success and sage-grouse population viability in some circumstances, but removal of older tree communities does not lead to sagebrush habitat improvements, especially with continued livestock pressure that hampers vegetation recovery.
“BLM is proposing yet another chaining project, with the same tired justifications, without producing any evidence that these projects achieve the intended objectives,” said Laura Welp, Ecosystems Specialist with Western Watersheds Project. “Before spending any more money and disturbing any more land, BLM should be able to demonstrate post-treatment improvement in native wildlife habitat and populations, including sage-grouse. As always, BLM also does not analyze the effects of livestock grazing on the need for these treatments, despite listing grazing as one contributor to the reason our public lands are so degraded.”
The construction of hundreds of miles of firebreaks will fragment sagebrush habitats and spread invasive weeds, but has little track record of success at containing or reducing the extent of fires, according to a recent report by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit environmental conservation group dedicated to protecting and restoring native wildlife and watersheds throughout the American West.