BLM to rip, tear, and burn huge area of public lands in southwest Idaho

Newly approved vegetation “treatment” project is questionable, expensive

News release. Western Watersheds Project

BOISE, Idaho — Today, the Bureau of Land Management approved a plan to log off or tear out native juniper trees from 617,000 acres of public land in Idaho. The agency will cut, shred, and burn juniper trees under the guise of improving sage-grouse habitat, despite science demonstrating that juniper woodlands occur naturally in the desert ecosystem and that removing or reducing livestock grazing would benefit sage-grouse far more than this expensive and ecologically damaging vegetation project.

The project, called the Bruneau Owyhee Sage-grouse Habitat Project (BOSH Project) was stalled last summer when Western Watersheds Project (WWP) raised serious objections to the methodology and utility of the effort. WWP pointed out that the agency hadn’t considered evidence that large-scale logging of juniper woodlands could spread invasive weeds, intensify wildfires, and degrade sagebrush habitats.

“We’re not fooled—this is not going to protect sage-grouse,” said Scott Lake, Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project. “It’s a huge federal welfare program created to cover up the land abuse from livestock overgrazing that has continued to devastate sagebrush habitats in Idaho for decades. It’s clear that the agency would rather throw money at the symptoms of the problem than address the root cause of sage-grouse declines.”

The final BOSH decision authorizes several vegetation removal methods that have not been shown to help sage-grouse. These include: prescribed fire, the use of heavy equipment in fragile desert landscapes, and logging of established juniper woodlands with greater than 10% canopy cover. The project also includes a scientifically dubious fuel-break component that calls for total eradication of juniper trees within 200 feet of roads. Fuel breaks are not effective in slowing or stopping large wildfires, especially in naturally high-intensity fire systems like sagebrush, but have been shown to cause habitat fragmentation and spread invasive weeds.

In addition, BLM continues to ignore General Land Office survey records and scientific evidence showing that juniper woodlands have been common in southwest Idaho since the early days of European settlement. Studies have shown that the range of juniper naturally expands and contracts in response to rainfall patterns and other climactic factors.

“BLM and its livestock industry allies have spent decades trying to convince the public that native junipers are an undesirable invasive species,” Lake said. “In reality, junipers have been a natural component of the sage-steppe landscape for thousands of years, and nothing in the scientific literature justifies the large-scale eradication of this species.  BLM’s decision betrays a willful ignorance of the natural history and ecology of the lands it is charged with managing.”

The project was reauthorized by a record of decision issued from the Interior Secretary’s office in Washington D.C., and provides no right of administrative review or appeal. Neither BLM nor the Interior Department provided an opportunity for public comment on this latest iteration of the project, and the public was not informed of the state of the project until yesterday, when the Department announced its final decision.

“We’re especially disappointed at the lack of public input, as well as the fact that BLM made no changes to this project before reauthorizing it,” Lake said. “Rather than take a hard look at the science and consider the potential adverse impacts of BOSH, BLM simply reauthorized the same flawed project without any additional public input or environmental analysis. This is a clear attempt to favor the livestock industry and its political supporters while shutting out the public.”





  1. Bruce Bowen Avatar
    Bruce Bowen

    I read BLM’s news release on this project and it smells pretty bad. I sense a new wave of cattle grazing and frisbee golf courses. The news release even mentioned that trimming the limbs on the junipers would keep raptors from praying on sage hens. Enough to make one barf.

  2. idaursine Avatar

    What a terrible shame. How old are some of these juniper trees, which are native vegetation? To be replaced with what? I had read where some of these junipers are hundreds of years old, and to think of or to watch video where they are bulldozed and destroyed is saddening. And other endemic vegetation and wildlife associated with the juniper-pinion ecosystem. Our unique North American landscapes are being continually destroyed and replaced with dullness. Compromise you say? We already have the lion’s share, and the continual chipping away and compromise will leave us with nothing.

    In the video Yvette posted of the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge (which should be protected until everyone’s last breath!), one thing that stood out was that native seedlings were being planted to replace those overtaken by human activity or invasive or non-native species. I think I remember reading somewhere that in the Western states, the government agency was replacing vegetation with non-native grass, and ‘did not have’ seeds of the native grasses. 🙁

    1. Nancy Avatar

      My suggestion Ida? Get out your checkbook, make what ever donation you can and then make your voice heard with politicians (local or otherwise) Research the many organizations out there trying to stop this insanity on public lands.

  3. idaursine Avatar

    What about erosion? To imagine people blundering through the landscapes destroying, bulldozing and ripping out vegetation is ugly, and just so unaware. 🙁

  4. idaursine Avatar

    The only time a judge has allowed a Trump policy, naturally the environment:

    “A federal judge on Friday dealt a win to the Trump administration when he dismissed a lawsuit by a group of butterfly conservationists for wall construction that the group said was expected to run through its property.”

  5. idaursine Avatar

    oops, the latest development whew!:

    “According to the Texas Tribune, Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar says he was able to add language to the bill that would prohibit “fencing at five major landmarks in the Rio Grande Valley.” Those landmarks are the 100-acre National Butterfly Center preserve; the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and birdwatching site; the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge (already technically protected in last year’s budget); the La Lomita historic Catholic chapel, which had been fighting the border wall and losing; and a section of land that has been earmarked to become the SpaceX transportation company’s “commercial spaceport.””

    Glad that historical and cultural areas are being saved too.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan