The Terrible Destruction of Pinyon-Juniper Forests

SOURCE:  Counterpunch.org

“Public lands ranchers have always hated the trees.  Just like native predators are killed as rancher enemies, native trees (and sage) take up space where grass might grow so they must be destroyed.  In all of these projects, BLM ballyhoos wildfire suppression benefits, ignoring that deforestation creates hotter, drier, windier, weedier sites with longer fire seasons.”


Two previous waves of pinyon-juniper deforestation have swept the Great Basin. A third wave is underway. These forests naturally cloak the regions’ arid mountains and slopes. Explorer journals, Mining District records and Interior’s own General Land Office survey records provide irrefutable evidence that pinyon-juniper historically occupied much of the landscape. Traces of old stumps, charred wood and charcoal kilns persist to this day.

Botanist C.S. Sargent visited central Nevada in 1879, and observed “the forests of Nevada, consisting of a few species adapted to struggle with adverse conditions of soil and climate are of immense age”. Sargent lamented the “terrible destruction of forests … which follows every new discovery of precious metals”. White settlement and exploitation were fueled by pinyon-juniper wood. Trees were clearcut over vast areas – even their roots dug out – to produce charcoal to process gold and silver ore.

The second wave of deforestation followed WWII. In the 1950s-1980s clearcutting, chaining (a ship’s anchor chain is strung between two bulldozers running parallel violently uprooting trees), herbiciding and burning took place. Trees suffered much the same fate as sage did in the government funded War on sagebrush that Rachel Carson wrote of in Silent Spring. Bleak monoculture plantings of exotic crested wheatgrass for livestock forage often followed the carnage – rewarding the same ranchers who had depleted the public lands for private gain. BLM proudly stated the tree destruction was being done for cattlemen. In 1981, Ronald Lanner published The Pinon Pine, a book praising the beauty of pinyon-juniper forests and describing the natural history of the animals intimately intertwined with the trees. Lanner included historical accounts of the pinyon-juniper biome, and exposed the federal government’s forest eradication campaigns “Turning Woodlands into Pastures: The Hard Way”. By the 1990s, large-scale deforestation had waned to some degree, though projects continued especially in backwater BLM Districts. Tree destruction in hazardous fuels projects gained momentum in the Bush years.

Now sage-grouse are being used as cover for the third big wave of deforestation, as federal agencies try to distract the public from the urgent need to list sage-grouse under the ESA. Grouse have been weaponized, and pitted against the pinyon jay, Clark’s nutcracker, mountain bluebird, black-throated gray warbler, ferruginous hawk, pinon mouse and other forest denizens. Pinyon jay populations have already precipitously declined by an alarming 85%, primarily due to deforestation.

Read the rest of this article HERE.


9 replies »

  1. I was so distressed to read this piece, I wrote to Erik Molvar of Western Watersheds Project—here is his reply—-Erik Molvar
    9:19 AM (16 minutes ago)

    to me

    Hi Susan,

    WWP is fighting this on multiple fronts. We filed a protest against a massive Forest Service project that included logging and sagebrush “treatment” in central Idaho, and the Forest Service voluntarily stayed the decision.

    We fought the Hatch-Heinrich pinyon-juniper treatment bill in Congress, but we lost that battle and it went through anyway (even though it was being pushed by the Mule Deer Foundation, and a new study came out showing that p-j logging was bad for mule deer). That bill directs the BLM to create ‘categorical exclusions’ (CXs) exempting p-j removal projects from NEPA analysis if they’re smaller than a certain acreage (5,000 acres sticks in my mind, it’s about that, but probably not exact). Apologists for the bill claim that it won’t apply much because to qualify for the CX a project would need to help both sage grouse AND mule deer, but we are skeptical that BLM will just make it up as they go along and claim benefits to both species in vitually every case, based on their track record for scientific integrity.

    We’re also heavily involved in the Tri-State fuel breaks project, and the Bruneau-Owyhee Sage-grouse Habitat (BOSH) project, and projects in Nevada and eastern California, and are a second-tier player in P/J projects in southern Utah.

    Best wishes,

    Erik Molvar
    Executive Director
    Western Watersheds Project
    319 South 6th Street
    Laramie WY 82070
    (307) 399-7910
    . . .
    P.O. Box 1770
    Hailey, ID 83333

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Who would have ever thought way back when, that at some time in the future, trees or shrubs native to their own historical territories & habitats would be treated like some invasive alien species brought over from another part of the world only to get loose and wreak havoc on the environment?

    Our Juniper forests have been unfairly demonized as an invasive in its home territory for many years now because it encroaches into precious grassland which is used for the privately owned, non-native, domestic cattle and sheep industry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Saw WWP article earlier – have to say, GG, why would our territories & habitats be treated any differently than our wildlife, including NATIVE wild horses? Somehow, some way, the livestock industry has to be stopped from eradicating any & all native species of animals and plants that inconveniences them. At the same time that the various fossil fuel industries are! Saw a video this am from Earthjustice showing what Alaska’s Refuge looks like NOW – before the destruction done by this administration’s push for more & more fuel. The government shutdown? How long will it take for all of the people who are affected by this to realize no politicians on either side should be able to cause this to happen? How many families will be unable to recover from this? And if this “wall” is allowed to be built – this affects people and wildlife & their habitats on both sides of the border – their lives will never be the same. Seems that just isnt being taken into account.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. From Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)

    EPA Guidance Says Surveillance Technology Supplants Need for Physical Barriers

    A “Revised Policy on Exclusions from ‘Ambient Air” draft issued in November 2018 declares:
    “This change replaces the specific concept of a fence or other physical barriers with the more general concept of measures, which may include physical barriers, that are effective in deterring or precluding public access.”

    This new guidance is in the context of assessing standards for ambient, as opposed to indoor, air. Thus, defining where people have access is a key regulatory element. This new guidance explains:
    “With advances in technology…EPA believes there are various measures other than fencing or other physical barriers that…serve as an effective deterrent to public access. These measures may include …video surveillance and monitoring…routine security patrols, drones, and other potential future technologies.”


    Liked by 1 person

    • Gustavo Solis | The Desert Sun

      Then came the fences. One perimeter, then a secondary. The fences helped the Border Patrol reclaim this little sliver of the country.

      But the fences did not stop the drug smuggling. With a near-infinite supply of money and resources on the other side, drugs continue to move under, around and through anything the country builds.

      No wall will stop them.

      Fences went up, but drugs kept moving.

      After the government built fences in San Diego, drug smugglers turned to the ocean, underground tunnels and, most commonly, the ports of entry. Last year more than 90 percent of the drug seizures happened in the port of entry, where millions of cars drive into San Diego from Mexico every year.

      Cartels “operate like a business,” Shaw says. “If you put up one wall, they find a way to get around it.”

      When drug smuggling moved to the ports of entry, it was by design.

      If a wall is built, don’t expect it — or the Border Patrol — to stop the flow of drugs.

      And any wall that is built can’t wall off the bustling border ports. Sealing San Ysidro would decimate a multimillion dollar, trans-border economy.


      Liked by 1 person

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