Wednesday, November 06, 2019

BLM, state, ranchers fight conifer encroachment

The Bureau of Land Management, working with a variety of partners, has steadily pushed back on the line of Douglas fir marching down the mountainsides in southwest Montana. Their work is crucial for the overall health of the sagebrush grasslands that are an iconic part of the Big Sky state, say proponents. The agencies call the issue “conifer encroachment,” a phrase which runs the danger of causing eyes to glaze over. But experts say the work is important for a host of reasons, including to mitigate climate change impacts on Montana’s water resources. “Removing these trees makes the land more resilient to a warming climate,” said Sean Claffey, Southwest Montana Sagebrush Partnership spokesperson for the Nature Conservancy. Conifers suck water out of the ground as soon as the snows thaw and continue to use water late into the fall, Claffey said. The program to push back on the downward Douglas fir march began in 2015 for the BLM, said Pat Fosse, BLM assistant field manager. The Nature Conservancy, an environmental group, supports the effort and hired Claffey to coordinate the different agencies involved in fighting back on conifer marches. “It’s what the science is telling us to do,” Claffey said. “And it’s not just good for the wildlife but also for maintaining sagebrush grasslands for livestock.” Claffey said since 1950, nearly a million new conifers have sprung up on Beaverhead and Madison counties across both public and private land. “Trees are slow-growing,” he said. “Over time, to the naked eye, they don’t stand out as a huge problem but when you look back at old photos, you can see they’ve expanded enormously.” That isn’t just bad for the butterflies or the sage grouse or water resources, according to Claffey. It’s also bad for mule deer habitat, elk habitat and moose...MORE

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