In yesterday’s post about the Owyhee “Group 1” grazing decision we discussed the NRCS Ecological Site Descriptions for Juniper Mountain that inaccurately describe the vegetation and magically discount the native juniper forests that exist there.    In the Environmental Assessment the BLM states: “Ecological site descriptions for Castlehead-Lambert allotment do not identify the presence of juniper in reference site descriptions, although juniper has the potential to invade sites totaling 77 percent of the acreage.”  We posted the following two maps showing this discrepancy and we said that the description notes at the end of each survey the surveyors noted “thick juniper” and “scattered juniper” in every township.

We wrote:

While investigating the claim that junipers don’t belong on Juniper Mountain, I was asked to look at the original public lands surveys found on General Land Office Records site and found surveys for this landscape from 1914 and 1921.  While the surveys don’t quantify junipers or show their density they do document their presence and in the General Description notes at the end of each survey the surveyors noted “thick juniper” and “scattered juniper” in every township.  When doing the surveys the surveyor walked the lines between each and every section (a square mile) to mark section corners and quarters.  At the end of each section line they noted the type of timber.  To map this I read the notes for each and every section line and noted the documentation of juniper.  I was able to give each section a score of 0 to 4.  If all four section lines noted “timber: juniper” then the section was given a score of 4.  What I found was that nearly every section had juniper presence just as they do today.  The surveys also mention “good growth of bunch grass which affords excellent range” even though today the understory is composed of very sparse grass and a nonnative semi annual grass called Poa bulbosa that is a very poor range plant with little habitat value.  Small islands of these healthy bunch grasses can be seen in areas that can’t be reached by cattle and the contrast is quite startling.

Juniper Mountain Junipers from old surveys JM_FRCC_NRCS_Eco_Sites

With this I think we understated the case for junipers being a native and expected component of the vegetation on Juniper Mountain.  Attached to this post is a pdf of the “General Description” pages for each township that I have mapped in the above map.  General Description Pages acrobat pdf.

Here are the relevant notes for each township that I mapped:

  • T 10 S, R 4 W  “covered with thick juniper and some mahogany brush”
  • T 10 S, R 5 W “covered with scattering juniper and mahogany”
  • T 10 S, R 6 2 “The only timber in this township is scattering juniper, or mountain cedar, of value only for wood and fence posts”
  • T 11 S, R 4 W “Juniper and mahogany thickets cover most of the township, chiefly on the mountains in the Southwestern part”
  • T 11 S, R 5 W “Juniper and mahogany thickets are found in all parts of the township”
  • T 11 S, R 6 W “This fractional township is covered with scattering juniper timber and dense undergrowth of sage and mahogany”
  • T 12 S, R 4 W “The township is covered with a scattering growth of juniper timber, none of which has any commercial value”
  • T 12 S, R 5 W “This township is covered with scattering juniper timber and dense undergrowth of sage and mahogany”
  • T 12 S, R 6 W “This fractional township is covered with scattering juniper timber and dense undergrowth of sage and mahogany”

Furthermore, throughout the surveys, the surveyors repeatedly identify bearing trees – or trees they often used as markers for the corners of each section and quarter section – that range in diameter anywhere from 6″ to 48″ showing that junipers were diverse in age and that they had been well established for hundreds of years prior to the surveys conducted from 1913 – 1921 in this area.

These same general description pages repeatedly describe “good grass” or “good growth of bunch grass” which has essentially disappeared or has severely diminished.  Are we to believe that junipers are the cause of this depletion or should we believe that 100+ years of abusive livestock grazing is to blame?

Simply put, the BLM is relying on very faulty NRCS information to make decisions about juniper forests and grazing on Juniper Mountain.

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About The Author

Ken Cole

Ken Cole, Western Watershed Project’s Idaho Director, is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is also serves as a member of the board of directors for Buffalo Field Campaign.

9 Responses to More about “encroaching” junipers on Juniper Mountain.

  1. avatar alf says:

    Good show, Ken ! Between these two posts, I think you’ve proven your/our case not “beyond a REASONABLE doubt”, but “beyond a doubt, PERIOD”, and that the BLM is either a pack of liars or incompetent, or both.

  2. avatar Dude, the bagman says:

    Invasive giant Canadian junipers? Eating all the native bunchgrass?

  3. avatar Lyn McCormick says:

    Thank you Ken. I am really enjoying the education ! They just DON’T want to “see the forest for the trees !” I was thinking, while backcountry skiing today, how incredible it is that they can “create” science to support their agenda, and possibly pull it off and actually re-create an entire ecosystem.
    Sounds like an old Xfiles episode.
    It’s the same mentality that chained and razed the east side of Diamond Mountain in Browns Park Wildlife Refuge – uprooted ancient Junipers and decimated ancient Indian campsites, to increase the forage availability for big game.

    BTW- Does anybody want to comment on the Sally Jewel nomination after the hearing today ? I’m all ears.

  4. avatar TC says:

    Never been to the area. Which juniper species are these? Common, Rocky Mountain, western, or Utah? Or a mix? Do they occur in pinyon/juniper woodlands, or is this more sagebrush steppe ecosystem?

    You would kinda expect junipers on Juniper Mountain, but then again, I know of three Grizzly Peaks that have long been absent their namesakes… At some point in the not too distant future only the names of places and landscape features will tell us what once was there in terms of animal and plant life.

    • avatar Ken Cole says:

      These are western juniper, Juniperus occidentalis or JUOC as would appear on the ecological site index map if the area had been mapped honestly.

      • avatar Noblefir says:

        OregonStateUniversity &The University of Arizona have performed extensive studies on theWesternJuniper stands located East of Bend on &near The Badlands Wilderness area. They have identified the traits that distinguish “Old growth” from newest aged trees.(ore and post settlement ages).Some of these stands of Juniper have existed for 6000 years.There is a wealth of info in thesevstudies. A lot of the old theories about Junker remind me of the same selfserving myths that stockman use when trying to convince us that Wolves should not exist in todaysceco systems.

  5. avatar Craig says:

    Is that why they cut down 100s of them in Oregon beetwen Baker and Ontario?

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