Source: San Diego Free Press
BLM’s justifications [are] moving targets … Once a justification is proved to be based on bad science and incomplete research, BLM throws up a new target.
To learn the answer, I embarked on a long, strange trip through BLM documents, books on pinyon pine trees, You-Tube propaganda, and countless scientific articles. I found so many justifications, my head was spinning. On a phone call with staff from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Field Attorney Neal Clark described BLM’s justifications as “moving targets.” Once a justification is proved to be based on bad science and incomplete research, BLM throws up a new target. Meanwhile, the destruction of pinyon-juniper forests intensifies.
The BLM, Carson City District, Sierra Front Field Office is proposing a vegetation treatment project in the Virginia Mountains area north of Reno and west of Pyramid Lake in Washoe County, Nevada. The Virginia Mountains Vegetation Treatment Project would destroy “approximately 30,387 acres” of pinyon-juniper forest.
The BLM’s online notice lists some of the most common excuses used for pinyon-juniper deforestation. Those excuses include: to “reduce the potential of large-scale high severity wild land fire,” “provide for public and firefighter safety and protection of property and infrastructure,” “maintain sagebrush habitat, riparian plant communities, wet meadows, and springs,” and “protect and enhance historic juniper woodland habitat.” In order to achieve these goals, the BLM’s online notice says the “proposed treatments include mechanical mastication, mechanical removal, hand cutting, chemical treatments, chaining, and seeding.”
BLM’s claims in their campaign against pinyon-juniper forests directly contradict the body of scientific literature.
Of course, the notice ends with the currently fashionable nod to protecting greater sage-grouse habitat and reads, “treatments would be designed to address threats to greater sage-grouse from invasive annual grasses, wildfires, and conifer expansion.”
When BLM claims that their proposed pinyon-juniper treatment projects will achieve the results like the ones listed in the Carson City District, Sierra Front Field Office’s notice, they are making claims that are not supported by scientific research. In fact, many of BLM’s claims in their campaign against pinyon-juniper forests directly contradict the body of scientific literature.
Since I began researching pinyon-juniper forests, writing this Pinyon-Juniper Forest series, and participating in a grass-roots campaign to demand a nationwide moratorium on pinyon-juniper deforestation, I have heard BLM’s claims replicated many times. It is time their erroneous assertions are put to rest. In this essay, I will address the common justifications BLM uses for destroying pinyon-juniper forests and show how BLM is lying.
The first reason BLM’s Carson City District, Sierra Front Field Office uses to support its proposal to clear-cut 30,387 acres of living forest is typical in the nationwide assault on pinyon-juniper forests. BLM claims their proposed project will “reduce the potential of large-scale high severity wild land fire.” According to BLM, this will “provide for public and firefighter safety and protection of property and infrastructure.”
BLM’s justification suggests that there is a serious potential for high severity, wild land fire in pinyon-juniper forests, but is that true?
William L. Baker and Douglas Shinneman wrote an article “Fire and Restoration of Piñon-Juniper Woodlands in the Western United States: A Review” (PDF) which is considered one of the leading reviews of fire incidence in pinyon-juniper forests. Baker and Shinneman argue that there simply is not enough scientific evidence for land managers to apply uniform fire and structural treatments like BLM’s proposed Virginia Mountains Treatment Project in pinyon-juniper forests.
[The BLM’s proposed] treatments have actually been found to increase pinyon-juniper forests’ potential for burning.
Not only are scientists cautioning BLM not to assume pinyon-juniper forests have a serious risk of large scale fire, mechanical treatments have actually been found to increase pinyon-juniper forests’ potential for burning. Allison Jones, Jim Catlin, and Emanuel Vazquez, working for the Wild Utah Project, wrote an essay titled “Mechanical Treatment of Piñon-Juniper and Sagebrush Systems in the Intermountain West: A Review of the Literature” (PDF). Their essay is a comprehensive review of the scientific literature surrounding pinyon-juniper forests and their review undermines many of the goals often given as the reasons for prescribed mechanical treatments of pinyon-juniper forests.
In regards to using pinyon-juniper mechanical treatment as a tool for reducing the potential of wild land fire, Jones et al. write, “There are… many studies that report when piñon-juniper is mechanically treated and if cheatgrass and/or other exotic annuals are present in the system before treatment, then cover of these species will increase post-treatment.” Cheatgrass, of course, is an invasive species that quickly outcompetes native grasses. The relevant problem with cheatgrass is that it is more flammable. When cheatgrass dominates rangelands, it speeds up the natural fire interval of those rangelands. In other words, cheatgrass makes the land it occupies more prone to wild fires.
Regardless of what BLM says, what they are actually doing is contributing to global climate change, a longer wildfire season at home, and hastening the destruction of the entire planet.
When BLM rips up pinyon-juniper forests in the interests of reducing the potential for wildfires, their destruction produces the opposite of their stated goal. Instead of providing for public and firefighter safety, BLM is actually making it easier for cheatgrass to choke out native species which in turn makes it more likely the Great Basin will burn. On the global scale, we know that deforestation speeds climate change. Trees sequester carbon and the prevalence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a leading cause of climate change. Warming climates lead to longer and more intense wildfire seasons. Wildfires burn forests releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and the vicious cycle intensifies. Regardless of what BLM says, what they are actually doing is contributing to global climate change, a longer wildfire season at home, and hastening the destruction of the entire planet. “Public and firefighter safety”? Hardly.
Read the rest of this article HERE.