SOUTHERN UTAH (ABC4 News) – The Bureau of Land Management is scheduled to strip natural vegetation from more than 130,000 acres of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Scientists and researchers at the national monument Tuesday expressed their concern with the extensiveness of the deforestation and its potential purposes.
The Bureau of Land Management is proposing stripping existing vegetation to create a more accessible sagebrush habitat which would help keep the sage grouse habitat intact.
The proposals at the monument involve shredding hundreds of thousands of acres of pinyon pine and juniper trees, natives of Utah for thousands of years.
“If you take away too much juniper and pinyon, you’re putting pinyon-jay and a whole host of other birds now in decline at risk,” said Mary O’Brien, Utah Forest Program Director for Grand Canyon Trust.
O’Brien said that if the land were to be used for cows or mule deer, recent research shows that the species prefer dense pinyon pine and juniper trees.
“We’re concerned that juniper isn’t being regarded as great food for cows, so let’s take it out,” said O’Brien.
O’Brien also said that research on soils in the area suggest that they’re meant for pinyon pine and juniper trees, so stripping the vegetation wouldn’t necessarily create healthy sagebrush.
An ecosystems specialist for Western Watersheds Project that worked for the national monument, Laura Welp, said its original goal was to manipulate the landscape as little as possible.
“We’re just concerned that those values that the monument was established for are protected in any kind of treatment of restoration project,” said Welp.
Welp said that the BLM often states that trees are needed to be cut down to reduce fire risk, but she says the research on the fire risk isn’t definitive.
“We completely recognize that restoration is definitely something that we need to do and want to do, but we want to do it carefully,” Welp said. “We don’t want thousands and hundreds of thousands of acres done all at once.”
Some of the scientists said there’s very little research being done on any of the treatments at the monument.