Great Basin Restoration
October 2007 The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests held a hearing on the “Major Environmental Threats to the Great Basin in the 21st Century” in Las Vegas, Nevada, on October 11, 2007. Senator Wyden (D-OR) chaired the hearing; Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) attended the hearing. Witnesses, including the coordinator for the Great Basin Restoration Initiative, a scientist employed by the U.S. Geological Survey, a rural county commissioner and the president of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, presented testimony on the effects of global warming, climate change, weed invasion, and unnatural fire on sagebrush steppe. Unfortunately, none of the witnesses professed, nor did Senator Wyden or Reid inquire, about the contributions of livestock grazing to the invasive weed-fire cycle in the Great Basin. (Indeed, the county commissioner and livestock industry representative both contended that increased grazing would help control fire.) The Senators were thus left with an incomplete description of the problem and solutions available to address the weed-fire cycle in sagebrush steppe. No conservationist was invited to testify at the hearing, although the Sagebrush Sea Campaign did submit a statement for the record that identified grazing as part of the problem.

Even before the hearing, Representative Simpson (R-ID-2nd) had urged Congress to allow BLM to reseed burned areas with nonnative forage plants; open more areas to “emergency” grazing; and study “the value of grazing as a management tool for fuels reduction on federally-owned lands.” The Dept. of Interior (BLM) may already be considering changes to loosen restrictions on public lands grazing to reduce fire fuels on public lands and the Secretary of Interior has created a task force to study the effects of climate change on sagebrush steppe. Idaho Governor Otter has created his own state-level fire rehabilitation committee to explore ways to address wildfire in sagebrush steppe.

Conservationists will offer an alternative, ecologically viable plan for restoration of sagebrush steppe to Congress in 2008-2009.

Los Angeles Times Beige plague (08/02/08)