File photo: A male sage grouse trying to impress a group of hens. The sage grouse spreads across the Intermountain West (including those pictured here in Wyoming) and has been identified as one of the species that may benefit from a proposed vegetation treatment in Bear Valley, April 10 2014 | Photo by Alan Rogers / The Casper Star-Tribune via The Associated Press, St. George News
ST. GEORGE – The public comment period for a comprehensive wilderness management plan in Bear Valley, located in Iron County, is coming to an end, but members of the public can still comment until Monday.
The Bureau of Land Management announced the Bear Valley Habitat Restoration Program on August 19, proposing to improve up to 2,894 acres of Crown land over a three to five year period. According to a press release describing the project, the goal is to restore wildlife habitat and reduce forest fire fuels.
“Vegetation management is needed in this area to help the BLM restore part of the valley to its historic state and to help prevent catastrophic forest fires, âsaid Paul Briggs, Cedar City Field Manager, in the press release. “We encourage public comments to further inform the analysis of the proposed action.”
To achieve these goals, BLM plans to use both mechanical and manual thinning techniques to clear thousands of acres of pinyon-juniper and seed from areas previously treated with a mixture of grasses, herbaceous plants and grass. shrubs.
These improvements will help native species like sage grouse and mule deer by providing forage and shelter that are lacking in areas dominated by pinyon-juniper, according to the BLM. However, some wilderness conservation groups have expressed doubts about the main benefactors of the project.
Laura Welp, an ecosystem specialist at the Western Watersheds Project, said the environmental scan accompanying the project plans was too superficial in covering the effects of livestock and big game in the intended area.
âWe have to look at the role of cattle grazing, and even though the guy from BLM said it’s within acceptable limits, in some cases the limits are too high,â Welp said. “They’re hoping it’s going to be, ‘Well, we’re just going to take out the pinyon and the juniper, and that’ll fix that.’ And, coincidentally, it will provide fodder for livestock and game, so it’s still in my head: is it really a fodder project?
In addition, the project targets pinyon-juniper as the main danger to forest fires and claims that the treatments would be effective in reducing the risk of future fires.
âWhen it comes to reducing forest fire fuels, it’s not that close to urban areas and forest fires also tend to be really weather related,â Welp said. “You can never tell where lightning is going to strike or when someone is going to forget to put out a campfire, so going ahead and cutting down on pinyon and juniper won’t necessarily solve your problems.”
Concerns aside, Welp said she was grateful for the details of the rest of the environmental scan. She said the BLM has done a good job making more information available than in some previous projects, but hopes the agency will do more to set specific, measurable goals so that it can be accountable externally. .
Bear Valley lands, like all BLM lands, are managed under the agency’s multi-use, sustained return mission – meaning the agency is responsible for overseeing public lands while balancing needs for energy development, livestock grazing, recreation, timber harvesting and preservation.
For more information or to submit public comments to the BLM, visit the ePlanning webpage for the Bear Valley Project. Written comments can also be sent to 176 East DL Sargent Drive, Cedar City, Utah, 84721.
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