Sierra Summit

Conversations and observations about California's mountains

October 3, 2008
Juniper controversy revisited, readers' corner
junipers2.jpgMy recent report on the federal government's plan to log and burn juniper woodlands across northeast California - in the name of ecological restoration, energy independence and climate-friendly power - stirred a lively response in the comment section of the Bee's web page. Separately, I received a number of interesting responses. Here is a sampling:

Hi Tom- I read your article and appreciated the topic.  This is the same old Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service of our parents and grandparents. The underlying issue here is to make the land "more productive" for grazing.  Back in the late '60s the BLM in Nevada were employing a technique called "chaining" where they would pull a huge ship's anchor chain between two bulldozers and uproot Junipers, pines, sagebrush, archeological sites and everything else in the way for miles and miles. Then they would plant crested wheatgrass and claim that they were changing a terminal ecosystem back to a productive range. This would appear to be the same goal with different techniques and scientific cover.

Not sure about the carbon storage issue. Hard to believe sage and grass would store more carbon than Juniper trees. But what do I know!

 Thanks,

Eddie Hard, Rosemont

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Tom:

 I am always amazed at how things are rationalized. A recent study was done on the Forest Service. One outcome was that the majority of Forest Service personnel completed college more than 20 to 25 years ago. Concepts and understandings of ecosystems, including juniper ecosystems have changed, while the Forest Service continues the mantra of "EIS, clear cut, burn, pave it over, and paint it green." No rational person intentionally creates moonscapes. As Aldo Leopold said, you can read the health of an ecosystem in the landscape. These horizontal "modified" juniper forests don't appear to be healthy, nor are they able to sequester carbon. This is all in the quest of more non-native grass for grazing. The native grasses were Nassella (formerly the genus Stipa) or purple needlegrass. Removing junipers just ensures invasion by non-native grasses - less nutrition, diversity and resilience.

 Juniper invasions occur when fire is excluded. Fire has been suppressed for about 100 years. So now we are reaping "old growth" junipers that would not have survived fire as seedlings. Integral reoccurring wildland fire is threatening to many foresters - they still buy into the Smokey Bear myths. Even when you use an increment borer to core into trees to identify and date periodic fire episodes, foresters refuse to accept what the evidence shows. Episodes such as this always seem to happen "just out of the public view." This occurred on the Sequoia National Forest where multiple Sequoiadendron (Sierra Big Tree) groves were aggressively logged on eastern-facing slopes (away from the common public view). It was Martin Litton and a few others, who noticed the unusual clear cuts - with snow on the ground - from the perspective of a private plane. The Forest Service ignored its own designations of "protected" groves, dragged logs across sensitive roots, and made a general mess of things. A critical result was the establishment of Giant Sequoia National Monument - and still the Forest Service cannot understand or believe things have changed. The effort now is to get the monument out of Forest Service and into National Park Service hands for proper management.

 Scott Kruse, Fresno

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Hi Tom,

The idea that a massive disturbance like a fire, chaining and burning, spraying, etc. is going to return a site to original productivity for anything other than a short term, in even an arid (not increasingly arid) environment, is the opposite of what research around the world shows.  Has anyone done an honest check on the progress/status of the massive crested wheatgrass plantations that were developed in Nevada's Basin and Range country since the 1960s?  A follow-up investigation of what happens with post-treatment plant communities from other 'management' disturbances in the Great Basin could prove illuminating.  What interesting times we are in.  Regards, Ray Butler, Truckee

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Tom -

  When I first heard of this juniper cut it was two years ago and at that time it was all about re-establish the grasses that had been lost to over grazing.  It seems the junipers were able to take over after the cattle had grazed off all the other vegetation.  Cattle don't care for juniper.  This is an example of a huge problem facing land management in the west, poor grazing practices not only from the past but still being practiced today.

I guess what I'm trying to say is without the poor grazing practices of the past there would never of been a story of having to cut down juniper forests today.

Steve Robinson, Westwood

 

 


 


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About Sierra Summit

The Author
Tom Knudson lives in the Sierra Nevada and travels widely throughout the range. His hobbies include fly-fishing, backpacking and cross-country skiing. He is the recipient of numerous journalistic awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes, one for a 1992 Sacramento Bee series "Sierra in Peril," a watershed work about environmental threats to the mountain range. E-mail Tom at tknudson@sacbee.com.

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