“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.