March 18, 2020 | By:
Hamblin Chaining © Ray Bioxham/SUWA

BLM undermines NEPA while threatening western public lands

Featured Image:  Hamblin Chaining © Ray Bioxham/SUWA

On March 13 The Bureau of Land Management released its “BLM Pinyon Pine and Juniper Management Categorical Exclusion Report,” the full title of which is “Report on the results of a Bureau of Land Management analysis of NEPA records and field verification in support of establishment of a categorical exclusion for pinyon pine and juniper management projects.”

This is part of the current administration’s initiative to try and exempt as many projects from NEPA review as it can manage. The Forest Service is also pursuing what the bureaucrats call “CX” (categorical exclusion or exemption) for as many of its projects as possible.

The BLM gives us until Monday, April 13 to comment on their report, which is a dense 67 pages. Perhaps, with social distancing currently in effect, will have time to review the report and comment.

This issue is serious on two levels:

  • one, it is an assault on the critically important National Environmental Policy Act and its emphasis on environmental impact assessment;
  • two, the euphemistically called “Vegetation Removal Program” involves hundreds of thousands of western public lands and is destructive of many public lands values.

The BLM report tries to make the case that the principal reason for PJ “management” which is essentially removal, often by such radical measures as chaining (called “mechanical removal” to dim the prospect), is primarily to restore sage grouse and mule deer habitat.

For background, check out the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance website, under “Issues” and read their take on the proposal. Their policy recommendations are:

  • Implement the least intensive, lowest risk actions first.
  • Align vegetation removal goals with the soil the of the area.
  • Take a precautionary approach to project size.
  • Develop scientifically-robust monitoring protocols.
  • Include adequate funding for long-term monitoring and development of peer-reviewed scientific literature as part of project proposals.
  • Analyze the impact of vegetation projects on biological soil crust and non-game species.
  • Stop vegetation removal on wilderness-quality lands.
  • Focus on prior vegetation removal project areas that have failed or underperformed.
  • Define meaningful goals and parameters.

Also, read a thorough peer-reviewed literature review published by the Wild Utah Project titled “Do Mechanical Vegetation Treatments of Pinyon-Juniper and Sagebrush Communities Work? A Review of the Literature” (February 2019, 48 pages of text, 25 of literature cited).

Finally, check out “Slash and Burn, Why is the BLM clearing vast swaths of piñon-juniper forests across the West?” by JEREMY MILLER | FEB 26 2020. Sierra online magazine. This is an excellent story featuring Katie Fite, “the public lands director of the Idaho-based WildLands Defense. For three decades, the diminutive 65-year-old has been a gadfly in the arid lands of the West, documenting the destruction of their remote and largely uncelebrated native forests.”

The answer is that sometimes treatments are useful, but they are not “one size fits all.” This seems a strong rationale for environmental impact assessment, not CX as advocated by the BLM.

Click here to read the document and submit your comments by the April 13 Deadline.

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