Idaho BLM BOSH proposal will likely degrade rangelands

The BLM just released its decision on its proposed Bruneau Owyhee Sage-grouse Habitat Project (BOSH Project) which will degrade 617,000 acres of southern Idaho by logging juniper, creating linear weed patches known as fire breaks, and using other questionable management strategies, all done,  in the name of enhancing sage grouse habitat.

Remarkably the BLM failed to note that livestock grazing is by far and away the most significant factor in sage grouse decline across the West. Unfortunately, the BLM is captured by the livestock industry and panders to the welfare ranchers of the West. As a result, the BLM has taken the politically expedient measure of doing more harm to our sagebrush steppe in the name of sage grouse protection.

The BLM starts with some questionable assertions. The first is that juniper, a native species, is expanding its range and thus must be eradicated.  Any number of studies challenge that assumption. Juniper woodlands tend to burn at intervals of hundreds of years, and in stand replacement blazes. After such blazes, the juniper slowly recolonizes the landscape. Also, climate change has led to the natural expansion of juniper in some areas. In either case, the presence of juniper is not abnormal or something to be destroyed.

Instead of even responding to such studies, the BLM relies only on studies by Range Department professors who exist to justify livestock grazing on public lands. These studies start with the incorrect assumption that wildfire was very frequent in sagebrush ecosystems and therefore, also in juniper woodlands, but more recent sagebrush fire studies also find sagebrush burns at long rotations of hundreds of years.

Beyond the fact that juniper woodlands are native and natural, the BLM advocates logging and burning which has been shown in many locations to become inoculation sites for cheatgrass. Cheatgrass is spread wherever there is a disturbance. Disturbance from logging or disturbance from livestock.

Livestock by trampling soil crusts and consuming native grasses, aids the spread of cheatgrass.

Cheatgrass poses a far greater threat to sage grouse because it increases the fire frequency and burns out both juniper and sagebrush.

The other major assertion of the BLM that is equally as misleading is that creation of 200-foot-wide linear “fuel breaks” will significantly influence wildfire spread under extreme fire weather. While fuel breaks may work to some degree under low to moderate fire weather conditions, under extreme fire weather, such breaks are for the most part useless.  All large fires occur under extreme fire weather conditions of drought, low humidity, high temperatures and wind, especially wind. The wind blows embers miles ahead of a flaming front. A 200-foot-wide “fuel break” has no effect on such wind-driven fires.

But such linear disturbances are wonderful pathways for the spread of weeds, including cheatgrass.

Beyond these concerns, the BLM again has ignored the multiple ways that livestock degrades sage grouse habitat. There is the trampling of soil crusts and spread of cheatgrass mentioned earlier. Livestock fencing is a significant mortality factor for the low flying birds. Fences are also perching for avian predators like ravens that feed on sage grouse chicks and eggs. Livestock is also the primary factor in the destruction and loss of riparian areas and wet meadows which are critical to young sage grouse chicks. Livestock eat some of the forbs (flowers) essential for growth by sage grouse chicks. Livestock also consumes the native grasses and other vegetation that would otherwise hide nesting exposing birds and young to predators.  The irrigated hay fields that dot the West, usually created by eliminating the native plants, not only removes much of the native habitat for grouse but can fragment habitat because of grouse at loathe to fly across vast expanses of hay meadow without cover from sagebrush.

There are other ways that livestock production harms sage grouse, but you would never know that any of these exist from the way the BLM ignores science to facilitate the use of our public lands for private profit by the West’s welfare ranchers.






  1. Bruce Bowen Avatar
    Bruce Bowen

    The BLM and the other agencies that are supposed to preserve wildlife and wildlife habitat have been badly compromised. The destruction of science in the government began with the Reagan/Watt administration. Middle management was actually trained in intimidating their field employees. Also, the BLM has always had a fair number of mormon employees that are sort of pre-trained to obey hierarchical authority no matter how duplicitous and hypocritical their work orders might be. Trump has finished the job. EG: a scientist by the name of Maria Caffrey was recently discharged from working for the U.S. Park Service for using terminology linking human activity and global warming. Her supervisors fired her because they don’t have the guts to stand up to Trumps political hit men. She was originally hired to determine what National Parks would be impacted by rising sea levels cause by global warming. Well duh!

    The BLM was formed in 1946 as a combination of the General Land Office and Grazing Service and its basic guidance was provided under the Taylor Grazing Act (1934 amended later in 1954). This law did not really provide for wildlife. The BLM began its war on native species by setting back succession (in a nutshell, providing more grass) so that huge pastures for cows were formed where sage hens once and other native species once flourished. Dense older growth sage brush became the enemy.

    Sage was burned, disced, chained and sprayed to achieve the goal of creating more cattle feed. Juniper and Pinyon habitats became the next victim. I think some of the huge fields of crested wheat that BLM planted still exist. So now they are at it again.

    I don’t think I am exaggerating to say that under the present conditions of mismanagement that the greater sage grouse will go extinct. Even the Endangered Species Act has been shackled- before a species can be listed and critical habitat is established it is necessary to determine if the listing would cause negative impacts to:
    livestock grazing, mineral and oil extraction, renewable energy development, recreation and transportation and residential and related building projects.

    Sage hens have about as much chance of survival as the last free band of Lakota did at Wounded Knee.

  2. idaursine Avatar

    Terrible the rationalization that goes on for this destruction. 🙁 And then the gall to say that removal of their natural habitat is to protect the sage grouse!


George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner