Originally published in the Idaho State Journal here.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management says it has to log and burn thousands of acres in Idaho’s Pleasantview Mountains, west of Malad, Idaho, to improve aspen stands and habitat for mule deer and elk. To do so, the agency plans on using heavy equipment such as bulldozers, feller-bunchers, and skidders to log, burn and destroy native sagebrush, juniper and Douglas fir, build 7 miles of new roads and upgrade 4 miles of illegally built roads to accomplish its dubious goal. But in truth, this project will destroy and fragment the largest blocks of existing forest habitat, making it unsuitable for the many species of native animals that already live there — which is why it must be stopped.
The Pleasantview Mountains are an “island range” that currently support an incredible array of biodiversity and also serve as an important dispersal corridor for large native carnivores. The BLM’s own research found the “sensitive species” in the Pleasantview include the Northern Goshawk, Flammulated Owl, Columbian sharp-tailed grouse and Greater sage-grouse as well as many species of migratory songbirds. Project documents also show that the Idaho Fish and Game Department’s research found sage-grouse population in the area is already in decline.
The agency targets what it terms seral aspen stands, which are the maturing Douglas fir and aspen forests it plans to log and then burn it down to bare dirt. The nearly 4,000-acre project includes logging 2,057 acres followed by prescribed burns, 883 acres of additional logging, 968 acres of additional prescribed burns and 77 acres of thinning.
In addition to burning the forest, another 786 acres of sagebrush habitat and 600 acres of mountain shrub communities are slated for burning. Pile burning will also be used in North Canyon, John Evans Canyon, West Elkhorn, Morgan Jones, Sublet, Sheep Creek and Wood Canyon. The project even allows the very oldest trees to be killed by girdling or burned in prescribed fire.
It’s worth noting that the grazing permits for over 2,000 livestock AUMs (“animal month units” equate to a cow-calf pair grazing for a month) had been temporarily suspended in the Pleasantview allotment due to cattle-caused land degradation and rancher trespass. Yet, despite the degradation of the existing range, the agency is planning to re-issue the grazing permits
The irony here is that the BLM claims it wants more young aspen but its Environmental Assessment ignores the fact that cattle browse and trample young aspen, greatly limiting the ability for aspen groves to regenerate. Adding insult to obvious injury, the agency refused to even consider alternatives that would lighten the grazing pressure and not burn vital sage-grouse habitat. Despite the agency’s elaborate plan to justify logging and burning, the truth is that it will take more than 100 years for the fir forests to recover sufficiently to provide suitable habitat for the Flammulated owl and other species following this scorched earth treatment.
It’s not just the Amazon where deforestation for cattle grazing is taking place and exacerbating the climate crisis, it’s also happening right here in Idaho and across the Intermountain West. Simply put, our public lands, forests and wildlife habitats — which belong to all Americans — are being liquidated and then torched to produce more grass for cows with no regard for the continued existence of the native species that have lived here for millennia.
We cannot sit back while our public lands are being logged and burned to benefit livestock. That’s why Wildlands Defense, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Native Ecosystems Council have appealed the Pocatello Bureau of Land Management’s Pleasantview Project — and we urge those concerned with preserving native species for future generations to join and support our fight against the on-going degradation of our public lands.
Katie Fite is the Public Lands Director at Wildlands Defense. Mike Garrity is the Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. Sara Johnson is the Director of Native Ecosystems Council.