North Fork Owyhee Wilderness BLM

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has withdrawn its misguided plan to cut junipers across more than 600,000 acres of the Owyhee Canyonlands in Idaho. Wilderness Watch opposed this drastic tree-clearing project whose 2016 Draft EIS called for cutting trees across 47,000 acres of Wilderness in the Big Jacks, Little Jacks, North Fork Owyhee, Owyhee River, and Pole Creek Wildernesses. While the BLM's preferred alternative in its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) excluded cutting in Wilderness, it would have cut more than 1,100 square miles. On August 1, 2018 BLM announced it was withdrawing its decision in response to a challenge from Western Watersheds Project.

 

Background:

The BLM released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for its Bruneau-Owyhee Sage-Grouse Habitat Project in the Owyhee Canyonlands region in Idaho in February 2018. Wilderness Watch opposed this drastic tree-clearing project whose 2016 Draft EIS called for cutting trees across 47,000 acres of Wilderness in the Big Jacks, Little Jacks, North Fork Owyhee, Owyhee River, and Pole Creek Wildernesses. Protected in 2009 as Wilderness, the Owyhee Canyonlands complex is one of the largest intact desert ecosystems in the lower 48 states—a spectacular maze of rugged plateaus, water-filled canyons, and a sense of remoteness rivaled by few landscapes.


The BLM proposed to cut native juniper forests to modify habitat to ostensibly benefit sage-grouse, but it’s questionable whether juniper removal would benefit anything but cows. BLM claims junipers compete with the grouse’s preferred sagebrush and grassland habitats and provide perching habitat for native raptors that prey on grouse.

 

BLM’s desire to convert this landscape to a condition it deems more desirable than what nature provides represents the antithesis of appropriate wilderness stewardship. Wilderness Watch has advocated that BLM instead find alternatives to killing native junipers and intensively manipulating vast areas of Wilderness; remove domestic livestock grazing in areas important to sage-grouse both within and outside the Owyhee Wildernesses; and
allow natural fires to burn so that the natural ecological processes that have sustained sage-grouse and a diversity of habitats for millennia can continue to do so.
  

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Photo: BLM

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