Friday, November 25, 2016

Massive project proposed to remove juniper trees in Idaho

Federal officials are proposing one of the largest ever projects to remove juniper trees to protect habitat for imperiled sage grouse and might also benefit cattle ranchers. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Monday announced it’s taking public comments through Jan. 3 on the plan to eliminate the trees from 940 square miles in Owyhee County in southwest Idaho. “For juniper, these numbers are unprecedented,” said Karen Launchbaugh, director of the University of Idaho’s Rangeland Center. “This is bold.” Launchbaugh said the sheer scale of the project could give scientists new insights into how to deal with vast juniper forests across the West that have sprung up in the last century. The project must first go through an analysis that includes an environmental impact statement. Experts say juniper trees have expanded, displacing sagebrush needed by sage grouse and several hundred other species in many Western states due to fire suppression efforts and other human activities. The trees also reduce grasses for cattle. “The cattlemen will benefit from this because it will mean more forage,” Launchbaugh said. “Also, elk and deer will benefit because it’s the same forage they eat.” The total size of the project is more than 2,300 square miles, but only a portion of that involves juniper removal, which will be done with chain saws or by mobile, tree-cutting machines called masticators. Officials say the overall project area includes about 70 occupied sage grouse leks...more

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