Wilderness Watch is opposing a drastic tree-clearing project proposed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) potentially across 47,000 acres of Wilderness in the Big Jacks, Little Jacks, North Fork Owyhee, Owyhee River, and Pole Creek Wildernesses in the Owyhee Canyonlands region in Idaho. 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 is proposing to remove native juniper forests to modify habitat to ostensibly benefit sage-grouse, it’s questionable whether juniper removal would benefit sage-grouse. 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 is urging the BLM to benefit both sage-grouse and the Owyhee Wildernesses by:
• Determining the root causes of sage-grouse decline and finding alternatives to killing native junipers and intensively manipulating vast areas of Wilderness;
• Dropping the proposed juniper removal project and instead removing domestic livestock grazing in areas important to sage-grouse both within and outside the Owyhee Wildernesses; and
• Allowing 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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