Suit filed against BLM land management in NV
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A conservation group is calling for a federal judge to halt the Bureau of Land Management from removing sage grouse habitat and other native vegetation from eastern Nevada. The debate is over how much to disturb the natural landscape in an effort to mitigate wildfires and, at the same time, preserve the ecosystem.
The environmental advocacy group Western Watersheds Project, or WWP, has filed a lawsuit against the BLM's watershed restoration project in the Cave and Lake valleys, just south of Ely. The suit is the most recent in a series of litigation against similar BLM land management plans across the West.
The issue at hand is the BLM's proposal to mow, chop, and, in some cases, use larger machines and herbicides to manage sage grouse habitat, among other native vegetation, and in the process reduce potential fuels for wildfires. The BLM's plan is to use some combination of those methods on about 100,000 acres in the Ely district.
Katie Fite, who's with WWP, says those methods are outdated, and the suit is an attempt to rein in BLM's disturbance of areas like the Cave and Lake valleys.
"In the interest of sage grouse. In the interest of protecting species like pinion jay and the pine nut resources out there, too. And in the interest of a reasonable, targeted and careful effort to address any fuels situation, hazardous fuels, rather than creating seas of cheat grass, which is what we're seeing in the aftermath of many of these BLM fuels projects."
Fite says the BLM's current practices pave the way for cheatgrass, which destroys sage grouse habitat and spreads fire quickly. But Tye Petersen, who's the Fire Management Officer for the Ely BLM, says they've tested these methods and found they have positive effects on the landscape.
"These aren't our first treatments to restore sagebrush communities or to reduce hazardous fuels. In the last, I'll say five to ten years we've done quite a few treatments, and we're seeing the benefits of them. In our sagebrush restoration projects where we didn't have high populations, populations are returning and increasing in those areas."
For wildfires, Peterson says they've seen much less uncontrolled fire activity in the areas where they've thinned juniper pinion, using methods like prescribed fires or hand cutting. In many cases, BLM says these land management policies promote the return of native grasses and vegetation, as well as prevent fires from spreading through the crowns of trees.
Cody Coombs, who's the Fuels Program Manager for the BLM Ely, says cheatgrass is always a danger after an area is disturbed.
"There is a risk after every disturbance that you do that you could possibly get cheatgrass back. However, we are taking a lot of the information we've learned in past treatments and applying that."
Katie Fite says all more grass is going to do is bring about bigger fires. She says the goal of their suit is to, among other things, force BLM to do a full environmental impact statement.
"What BLM did was this flimsy little document, an Environmental Assessment. They didn't even do an EIS,"
An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is a more intensive review, which is only reserved for "major federal actions that significantly affect the quality of the human environment," according to the BLM. An Environmental Assessment, on the other hand, is done to determine whether an EIS should be performed.
BLM says when their Resource Management Plan for the Ely district was put together several years ago, they did perform a full impact statement, and it went through the public process. But for smaller projects that fall under that overarching plan, such as this one in the Cave and Lake valleys, they didn't need one because an Environmental Assessment was sufficient.
BLM Ely says it will go forward with the land management plans for the area as soon as next month