Editorial: BLM proposes firebreaks to reduce size of wildfires

The Bureau of Land Management is currently conducting a series of public hearings across the West to get input on an audacious proposal to limit the unchecked spread of rangeland wildfires.

The BLM says wildfires have increased dramatically in size and frequency in the past decade in six Western states — Nevada, Utah, California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. During that time, 21 fires have exceed 100,000 acres. A total of 13.5 million acres have burned. Efforts to suppress wildfires by the BLM alone have cost $373 million over the past decade

“These wildfires result in increased destruction of private property, degradation and loss of rangelands, loss of recreational opportunities, and habitat loss for a variety of species, including the conversion of native habitats to invasive annual grasses,” the BLM reports. “The conversion of rangeland habitats to invasive annual grasslands further impedes rangeland health and productivity by slowing or preventing recovery of sagebrush communities.”

To counter this, the federal land agency is proposing to create up to 11,000 miles of firebreaks as a way to keep the fires from spreading into mammoth infernos, like the Martin Fire in northern Nevada this past year, which consumed nearly half a million acres of rangeland.

The draft proposal calls for fuel breaks being created along roads and rights-of-way by mowing, grazing, mechanical and chemical clearing, as well as prescribed burns. Some of the breaks could be brown strips — areas where all vegetation has been removed. Others could be green strips — areas where vegetation that is more flammable has been replaced with less flammable vegetation.

In some areas invasive cheatgrass — a perennial that grows knee high in the spring but dries out in the summer — would be replaced with native plants less susceptible to fire. Also, grazing permits could be adjusted to allow for spring time clearing of cheatgrass.

Cheatgrass and wildfires create a vicious cycle. Cheatgrass recovers more quickly than native species after a fire. Thus the more fires, the more cheatgrass. The more cheatgrass, the more fires.

John Ruhs, once the head of the BLM in Nevada and now the head of BLM operations in Idaho, was quoted in an agency press release as saying, “Fuel breaks have proven to be very effective in slowing rangeland wildfires, making them easier and safer for wildland firefighters to control. We believe that creating a system of fuel breaks will help us enhance and improve our working landscapes.”

The BLM’s principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, Casey Hammond, was quoted as saying, “Wildfires devastate forests, rangeland and communities across Idaho and throughout the West, and without strategic planning they’re likely to continue in the years ahead. With this initiative and others like it, we’re working proactively to curb wildfires’ destruction and make it safer and more effective for firefighters to protect people and property.”

Environmentalists have expressed concerns that firebreaks may fragment wildlife habitats, including that of the threatened greater sage grouse, but the fragmentation should be less threatening than a wall of flames threatening the animals’ very lives and food source.

Brian Rutledge, a vice president of the National Audubon Society, notes, “The safety of a sage-grouse is utterly dependent on its cryptic coloring and cover from overhead predators. If the birds didn’t get burned up in the fire, there’s nowhere to hide eggs in cheatgrass.” Additionally, unlike soft sage leaves, cheatgrass provides little nutrition for the species.

The BLM is accepting comments on the proposal through Aug. 5.

Scoping meetings are scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. on July 16 at the Red Lion Inn in Elko and July 17 at the Bristlecone Convention Center in Ely.

Firebreaks would be a valuable tool in the effort to cut down the size of rangeland wildfires.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.
BLM proposes firebreaks along 11,000 miles of roads and rights-of-way.

Source: Editorial: BLM proposes firebreaks to reduce size of wildfires


THE WILDLIFE CORRIDORS CONSERVATION ACT – What You Need to Know!

On By Steve Busch

The 2019 Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act  (WCCA) is perhaps the most significant attack on private property rights in decades, perhaps ever.  A simple look at the list of sponsors of the proposed legislation provides plenty of warning about what this new law portends.

The WCCA was introduced in Congress in May 2019. In the Senate, the bill is being led by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), and was cosponsored by Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D- NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Jon Tester (D-MT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).  The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen  Don Beyer  (D-VA) and Vern Buchanan (R-FL).

REWILDING advocates and their minions in Congress are ecstatic over what this “ACT” will lead to once it is enacted.  Don’t be fooled, folks! This legislation doesn’t SAVE wildlife!  Non-endangered species such as grizzly bears and wolves don’t need your private property or more Federal land to survive.

The WCCA is NOT about building “squirrel bridges” over highways so our little furry friends can cross the road safely.  It is NOT about reducing highway collisions between motorists and moose.  It is NOT about reducing “conflicts” between large carnivores and people.

The WCCA provides for a system of “National Wildlife Corridors” which will affect all future decisions regarding Federal land and water management plans and activities.  The Act provides corridors for “existing native species habitat”  and also for “future native species habitat” as required to ensure “species resiliency”.

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The WCCA  seeks to permanently reverse the  “EXTIRPATION” of large carnivore species such as wolves and grizzly bears by ensuring population connectivity in the face of human development and/or any other human-caused factors including “climate change”.    The law will require that land where a species is “currently absent”  but once was historically occupied by a particular species, is “colonized or recolonized by the species” either through “re-introduction or restoration of habitat”.

The new law will empower the environmental lobby even further by allowing taxpayer-funded “Regional Climate Science Centers” and “Landscape Conservation Cooperative Networks” to continue operating outside the legislative process and having a disproportionate influence on land management planning and policy.

The WCCA establishes regional “Wildlife Movement Councils” which will involve multiple NGO’s and various stakeholders.  Private property owners, such as farmers and ranchers, will be allowed a seat at the table, but they will remain in the minority and are included only to add a veneer of cooperation and consensus for decisions they will be unable to successfully challenge.

The WCCA guarantees that rural communities here in the Inland Northwest will increasingly become surrounded by lands identified as “essential” to the movement of large carnivores species (grizzly bears, mountain lions, wolves, wolverines, lynx, etc.)  These movement corridors will come at the expense of other wildlife species, human safety, and private property rights.

“Grizzly bears need room to roam… Grizzly bears don’t follow human boundaries, and often, our parks are simply too small for this wide-ranging species. When they venture outside of protected areas, they are hunted, hit by cars, or come into conflict with people. But just like how people need highways to get from one place to another safely, grizzly bears, and other species, need wildlife corridors to move from protected area to protected area in search of food and mates. The Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act would provide these essential paths, protect grizzlies and drivers from dangerous highway collisions, and help to reduce conflicts with people by giving grizzlies a safer route around cities and towns.”   [Wildlands Network]

Yes, highway wildlife crossings are certainly part of the sales pitch.  We all want safer roads.  Nobody in their right mind wants to collide with an animal on the highway.  But the WCCA isn’t about traffic safety!  It’s about adding yet another layer of burdensome regulations affecting thousands of square miles of America and changing how our society functions.

As private property becomes increasingly useless due to new and more restrictive land use regulations, conservation easement programs may eventually become the only viable option for bankrupt landowners.  The “Wildlife Movement Grant Program” and the “Wildlife Corridor Stewardship Fund” as outlined in the WCCA, will help ensure the continued destruction of property rights in America.

For further reading:

https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/1499/text

http://conservationcorridor.org/cpb/WHCWG_2010.pdf

http://conservationcorridor.org/cpb/WHCWG_2011.pdf

https://wildlandsnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Information-Packet-2019.pdf

https://oldmanoftheski.com/2013/04/08/rewilding-the-interior-beware-the-lccs/

https://oldmanoftheski.com/2017/04/14/rewilding-america-on-youtube/

Source: THE WILDLIFE CORRIDORS CONSERVATION ACT – What You Need to Know!

WESTERN WATER: Judge on landowners’ plight: ‘I won’t say the word “screwed”‘

Ellen M. Gilmer, E&E News reporter

There, government lawyers urged the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to toss a lawsuit from Nevada landowners who say a federal restoration project stole their water and flooded their land.

At issue is Patch of Heaven, a Christian camp on private land nestled within the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.

The Nevada church Ministerio Roca Solida bought the 40-acre site in 2006 for $500,000. At the time, a stream called the Carson Slough flowed across the property, feeding plants and a small pond and sometimes serving as a site for baptisms.

In 2010, the Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages all of the surrounding land, rerouted the channel in a restoration project to help the Ash Meadows speckled dace, an endangered fish that lives in the area’s warm springs.

Annette and Victor Fuentes, who own Ministerio Roca Solida, say the government owes them compensation for eliminating the stream from their property — except for a trickle of water the site claimed through a state permit — and rerouting it in a way that causes repeated flooding on another part of the parcel.

The couple teamed up with the conservative Mountain States Legal Foundation and attracted the support of Westerners opposed to federal land management, including the Bundy ranching family infamous for its conflicts with government agencies.

Speaking at a boisterous rally at Patch of Heaven last year, Ryan Bundy offered to demolish the FWS project himself (Greenwire, April 23, 2018).

The mood was decidedly tamer during yesterday’s hearing, where just five spectators — including one reporter and one court employee — listened to more than two hours of technical arguments involving property rights, water law and hydrology.

Judge Elaine Kaplan must decide whether to grant the government’s motion for summary judgment rather than allowing the case to proceed to trial.

The church’s claims are twofold: that the government’s elimination of streamflow on the land without payment amounted to an unconstitutional taking of vested water rights, and that the diversion project’s contribution to flooding was also a taking.

Justice Department lawyers yesterday disputed both claims. The government contends the landowners are not entitled to the water rights they claim, and, in any case, that issue should be adjudicated by the state of Nevada, not the Federal Claims court.

The two lawyers from DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division also attempted to poke holes in the Fuenteses’ flooding claims, dismissing the plaintiffs’ expert testimony as unsubstantiated and noting that the broader area is prone to flooding.

“Plaintiffs would like this court to believe … that there was never flooding on that part of the property,” DOJ attorney Davené Walker said, adding that the area is part of a flood zone and has a well-documented history of such events.

Walker explained that to win a takings claim against the government for flooding, the plaintiff must show that FWS caused the flooding and intended or expected it to happen. Ministerio Roca Solida has offered no evidence to support either prong, she said.

Mountain States Legal Foundation lawyer Zhonette Brown, in turn, questioned the evidence presented by the government.

Kaplan, an Obama appointee, agreed with the government that Ministerio Roca Solida’s expert testimony appeared “a little thin,” but she questioned whether it would be appropriate to resolve the case in favor of the United States at this stage, without allowing the church to make its case at trial.

She also empathized with the Fuenteses on their loss of the stream, regardless of whether FWS’s project was lawful.

“I won’t say the word ‘screwed,'” she said of the landowners, eventually landing on the word “injured.”

The judge added that she’s never heard a water rights case or a flooding case before and will need some time to consider the competing evidence.

“Your Honor’s more than welcome to come out to the property,” Brown said, “so you can make your own conclusion.”

Dried-up baptimisal pool. Photo credit: Jennifer Yachnin/E&E News
The former baptismal pool at the Patch of Heaven camp in Amargosa Valley, Nev. A “legal evidence” sign refers to the camp’s owners’ lawsuit with the Fish and Wildlife Service over diverted streams and flooding. Jennifer Yachnin/E&E News

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