Share |

Native Americans speak up: fuels reduction, planning and pine nuts - failures in government's management of pinon pine forests

Pinon Penny outlines legal failures of BLM to consider Native American concerns

January 25, 2001

Mike Main
William E. Dunn
BLM Ely Field Office
HC 33 Box 33500
Ely, NV 89301-9408

     In response to the Managed Natural and Prescribed Fire Plan (EA #NV-040-00-020),
hereinafter noted as the Plan, we believe the following information is not addressed in the Plan
and must be addressed for the health, safety, and security of the population, both inside and
outside of the BLM Ely District. We believe that the information is so significant and has such
serious environmental impact, that the BLM Ely District, after investigation and verification,
must develop a complete EIS. We thus insist that the BLM Ely District not implement
EA#NV-040-00-020 without the completion of a supplemental EA or EIS.

I.  Justification for Supplemental Environmental Assessment (EA) or Complete Environmental
Impact Statement (EIS)

     In preparation for compliance with the Council on Environmental Quality=s (CEQ)
Regulations for Implementing the Procedural Provisions of the National Environmental Policy
Act (40 CFR Parts 1500-1508), the BLM Ely District determined the Managed Natural and
Prescribed Fire Plan (EA #NV-040-00-020) to be an action which required the preparation of an
environmental assessment (EA) to determine if an environmental impact statement (EIS) was
needed. The Decision and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) dated November 20, 2000
indicates that the BLM has determined that there will be no significant impacts to the quality of
the human environment.
     However, if after or during the preparation of an EA, it is determined that the impacts of the
proposed action are significant, an EIS or supplemental EA must be prepared. A supplement is
prepared when there are substantial changes in the proposed action that are relevant to
environmental concerns [40 CFR 1502.9(c)(1)(i)], or when there are significant new
circumstances or facts relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the proposed action or
its impacts which were not addressed in the existing analysis [40 CFR 1502.9(c)(1)(ii)].
     We propose that both of these conditions have occurred. First, since the original plan has been
written, thousands of acres have been lost to both natural fires and fires that have been allowed to
burn out of control in the state of NV. The Plan has not been modified to take the total burned
acreage within the state of Nevada in the past year or previous years into account. Secondly, the
BLM has overlooked critical environmental and legal information in the Plan. These omissions
include 1) the failure to include the effects of incineration of radionuclides deposited into the soil
from years of atmospheric and underground nuclear testing, 2) failure to include incineration of
toxic herbicides and pesticides in areas that have been sprayed or will be sprayed during the
duration of the plan, 3) failure to sufficiently contact all affected people and communities,
particularly Western Shoshone, while recognizing the negative impact to native foods, medicine,
economics, and culture, 4) failure to abide by the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act,
the Native American Religious Freedom Act, 5) failure to consider or address issues of
Economic Justice, 6) failure to consider alternatives, other than Ano action,@ to the Plan. Because
of these important and serious omissions, the EA does not provide sufficient evidence and
analysis of impacts on the quality of the human environment to support a determination of no
significant  impact (40 CFR 1501.3).

II.   Failure to include the effects of incineration of radionuclides

     During the period of above ground testing from 1951 to 1963, radioactive releases from the
Nevada Test Site emitted over 12 billion curies of radioactive material into the atmosphere, 148
times as much as the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. Other pre-1971 nuclear tests released
25,300,000 curies, and from 1971-1988, 54,000 curies were released, including the 36,000 curies
from the Mighty Oak accident, which was itself 2000 times greater than the release at Three Mile
Island. Over half of all underground tests have leaked radiation into the atmosphere (DOE Report
on Radioactive Effluents, 1988). DOE has been out of compliance with federal and state permit
requirements in the areas of air emissions, water releases, and solid waste disposal (DOE Nevada
Operations Office Five Year Plan, 1989). There is contamination in soil, air, ground and surface
water. Strong winds, common to this area of Nevada, can carry plutonium-contaminated dust
across a large area. Fallout from above ground nuclear tests in the US and other countries has
radioactively contaminated the atmosphere around the Earth. Project Faultless in Hot Creek
Valley was found to have caused radioactive contamination in groundwater
.      According to EPA Publication 520/4-77-016, cumulative deposits of plutonium (Pu-239 and
Pu-240) have been found in soil over 100 miles north of the NTS at levels of 790 mg per acre.
Plutonium has a half-life of 26,000 years, and plutonium contaminants ingested in microscopic
amounts are capable of causing cancer for 200,000 years. There is no cost-effective technology
for decontaminating such sites. No surveys have been conducted to determine health effects on
Native American or other residents from Nevada Test Site (NTS) releases. Currently the Nuclear
Risk Management for Native Communities project is working to answer some of these questions.
It is known that plutonium translocates to specific radiosensitive organs, especially reproductive
     No one knows the amount or extent of nuclear contamination in the area surrounding the NTS
and Nellis Air Force Base which tests depleted uranium bombs. In October 2000, two bombs
were detonated there. These bombs may have contained depleted uranium. ADepleted uranium@ is
a misleading term; it does not mean there is no uranium in the bomb. Depleted uranium contains
up to 60% of  full strength uranium. More testing of soil and plants needs to be done to determine
what radionuclides might be released into the air in a fire, since a prescribed burn has never been
done at a former nuclear site. Plutonium and radionuclides concentrate in dust, thus higher
concentrations are found in the dust sampling than in regular soil sampling. The standard air
monitors and surface water samplers usually used are not sufficient to measure submicroscopic
particles of plutonium. Further, plutonium contamination is not homogeneous, so simplistic
sampling methods are inadequate (John Till, President, Risk Assessment Corp; 2000).
Wind-blown particulates must be considered. Debris and gas will go somewhere, but where? Into
the water or the soil?
    Thus, the current Managed Natural and Prescribed Fire Plan includes illegal incineration of
transuranic waste without pollution control equipment. Debris will go somewhere. Which
communities will be the downwinders? The BLM is opening itself to mass toxic tort action
similar to the Agent Orange and asbestos cases, the cost of which is ultimately borne by the

III.  Failure to include effects of incineration of pesticides and herbicides

     The statement in the Plan that Athere would be little risk that noxious weeds would increase
because known areas of noxious weed occurrence were specifically excluded from the fire
management polygons,@ is not very assuring. According to the Integrated Noxious and Invasive
Weed Management Programmatic Environmental Assessment (#NV-040-00-017) which has
already been passed by the Ely District BLM, only 500,000 acres out of 12,000,000 were
inventoried, as of January 2000. This is less than 5%. How could the BLM then state that known
areas are excluded when 95% of the land has not been inventoried?
     Conversations with Curtis Tucker and Shane DeForest indicate that BLM has not
superimposed a map of the burn area onto a map of planned, existing, or past herbicide or
pesticide use. Curtis Tucker referred to Garlon being used in the area of Ash Springs. Shane
DeForest referred to the Department of Agriculture spraying for grasshoppers in the area, as well,
as permits for spraying requested by Placer Dome for spot application on 300 Acres, and by a
private rancher on rights of way extending less than 10 Acres. DeForest also mentioned that
rights of way have been sprayed throughout the state and the area for noxious weeds. Ranchers in
the areas adjacent to the fires probably use herbicides such as Tordon, 2, 4-D, some of the most
common herbicides used in the United States. BLM has no way to monitor the use of herbicides
by private individuals.
      Examination of the Noxious Weed Plan cannot be separate from the analysis of the Fire Plan.
The Noxious Weed Plan is scheduled to begin this spring. Thus, plants treated with these
herbicides may be burned. Appendix A of the Noxious Weed Plan includes a List of Noxious
Weeds and Recommended Treatments. Groups of allowable herbicides are listed for eradication
of each Aweed.@ However, there is no indication which herbicide will actually be used or under
what circumstances. While herbicides are listed, the exact compounds are not noted. For
example, with 2, 4-D ester, any one of a number of different compounds could be used (Low
Vo-6 Ester, weedone 638, weedone lo vol 6, weedone lv4, weedone lv4 solventless, weedone
lv6, etc.).
      Knowledge of the specific compound is important because of chemical reactions that may
take place when multiple herbicides are used in proximity or wash together into the ground
water, or are burned together. For instance, one chemical being most often suggested is Tordon.
But Tordon is also called Grazon, and the active ingredient is picloram, better known as Agent
White, similar to Agent Orange, and one of several defoliants used in Vietnam. In fact, Agent
White (picloram) appeared in 5 of the 15 defoliants used there. Agent White is currently being
sprayed by the U. S. on the coca fields in Columbia as part of the drug war. In 1998, Dow
Chemical, manufacturer of Agent White (picloram) tried to halt its use, warning that it does not
bind well with soil, easily washes into the groundwater and could cause irreparable damage to the
Amazon Rainforest. Yet, U.S.G.S. Pesticide 1992 Annual Use Map showed estimated annual
agricultural use of Agent White to be less than 0.370 pounds per square mile per year. The map
shows the entire state of Nevada has been exposed. This is a lot, and has probably increased since
that time. If it=s dangerous to the water and forest areas of Colombia, it is dangerous here in the
U. S. The use of Tordon is banned in some countries.
     Also commonly used is 2, 4-D which forms poisonous gas in fire. It is on the Hazardous
Substance List because it is regulated by OSHA. The chemical is a mutagen (changes the genetic
structure), a teratogen causing birth defects, and a carcinogen particularly related to breast
cancer. Short term effects of its use include the death of animals, birds, fish, and plants within
2-4 days after exposure. About 91.7% of 2, 4-D will eventually end up in water. In 1990, the
Clean Air Act announced 2, 4-D as a hazardous air pollutant. Run off vapors can kill non-target
plants. Agent Orange was a mix of 2, 4-D and 2, 4, 5-T. Another name for 2, 4, 5-T is Weedar.
And both of these chemicals appear on the Arecommended list.
      Garlon is also known as triclopyr (both names appear separately on the recommended
treatment list as if they are different herbicides). Triclopyr=s chemical structure is very similar to
2, 4, 5-T. The MSDS sheet includes the following data: Nitrogen oxides, hydrogen chloride, and
phosgene may result under fire conditions and NIOSH/MSHA requires approved SCBA and full
protective equipment for firefighters. Garlon-treated wood that is burned during forest fires, or in
wood stoves at home produces a dioxin, one of the most damaging compounds to living
organisms. Garlon is an endocrine disrupter. It mimics a plant hormone, acting systematically to
kill the plant or tree. The hormone that Garlon mimics is perceived by the human body to be
estrogen. In women, this may result in breast cancer, miscarriages, infertility, birth defects, and
possibly ovarian cancer. In men, it can cause prostate or testicular cancer and reduction of sperm
count. It also may aggravate liver and kidney disease.
     When I discussed these issues with Shane DeForest, he said that he did not have the MSDS
sheet on the herbicides, and that the resulting chemical reactions from Amixing these herbicides
had not been discussed. OSHA requires that all persons who come into contact with the
herbicides must have access to the MSDS sheets for each. It does not appear that either the
herbicide companies or the BLM is complying with this federal regulation.
     BLM describes the greatest potential impact to the soil would be loss of soil productivity
through erosion and that immediately after any fire, surface runoff would increase because of the
loss of vegetation and surface litter (Plan, p. 7 Soils, Water Quality). If these herbicides are in the
soil and on the plants, the chemicals may enter the groundwater. There is no Cumulative Impact
Analysis in the Fire Plan concerning burning of herbicides. And again, BLM=s Fire Plan is
insufficient and illegal incineration of hazardous materials opens the BLM to law suits of mass
toxic tort.

IV. Failure to include and address issues of economic justice

     In Information Bulletin No. NV-96-052 dated December 14, 1995, BLM District Managers
are told about Executive Order 12898, AFederal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in
Minority Populations and Low Income Populations, signed into law on February 11, 1994.
AEach federal agency shall analyze the environmental effects, including human health, economic
and social effects, of federal actions, including effects on minority communities and low-income
communities. Also from that letter, Aagencies have an added responsibility to ensure that the
public, including minority communities and low income communities, has adequate access to
public information relating to the federal action, and its impacts (underlining is theirs). And AIn
its Clean Air Act section 309 review of environmental effects of proposed actions of other
federal agencies, the EPA must ensure that the action agency has fully analyzed environmental
effects on minorities communities and low-income communities.
     From the minutes of the Tribal Coordination Meeting, Ely Field Office, BLM on December
20, 2000, under the topic AFire, ATribal representatives expressed concern that they had not
received copies until recently and requested a 40 day extension for comments. Obviously the
Executive Order 12898 has been ignored if Tribal members are not aware of the Fire Plan 9 days
before the appeal deadline of December 29, 2000. While a comment period was extended, there
has been no extension of Notice of Appeal or Appeal deadlines, thus making it impossible to
follow appropriate Appeal procedure.
      No attempt was made to contact the traditional Western Shoshone Government, the Western
Shoshone National Council through Chief Raymond D. Yowell. The issues and concerns of the
native people who hold aboriginal title to the land and have used the land since time immemorial
have not been addressed. The Western Shoshone traditional government and the Western
Shoshone people have ultimate legal jurisdiction within their own treaty territory. They have
never ceded any land to the US and they have not hired the BLM to manage their land.
     Neither Yomba Shoshone Tribe, Timbisha Shoshone, Moapa Tribe, or Walker River Tribe, or
any of the Paiute Tribes are listed on the Plan notification list although all of these native people
have gathered pinenuts for food and medicine since time immemorial. Page 14 of the Plan,
ANative American Religious Concerns acknowledges that Aplants, such as pinyon trees, juniper
trees, sagebrush, and willows used by Native Americans would be burned. This list is in no way
inclusive of the plants used for food, medicine, and commerce by the Native Americans. There is
no mention of animal life in this list. Traditional values and use areas may be impacted, it is
admitted, but no mention is made of probable violations of the Historical Preservation Act or
Native American Religious Freedom Acts. More disturbingly the statement AThe long term goal
of allowing fire to resume a more natural ecological role may be prefereable to the Native
American communities, based on pasted (sic) discussions. The words Amay be preferrable@
illustrate how Native American input has not been included in recent discussions.
     Curtis Tucker stated in discussion that, according to NV law every person (including Native
Americans) is allowed 25 pounds of pine nuts per year. He said that is plenty for anyone, that it is
not closely monitored, and that, if a person picks more, they are engaged in commercial picking
and need commercial permits. This amount was never negotiated with the Western Shoshone
Government or with any Native peoples, but was established in the NRS in violation of the
Historic Preservation Act and the Native American Religious Freedom Act).  Regardless of the
status of land in any treaties, native people still have the right to harvest and gather as they wish
in their native lands.
     Pine nuts appear in adequate quantity in various locations throughout Nevada at different
times. Native peoples of Nevada must travel to gather the nuts for medicine, ceremonies, and
food. Walker River Paiute, for example, holds an annual Pine Nut Gathering in the Fall.
Although they may be severely impacted now and in the years to come by the effects of the Plan,
they were not notified of the scheduled Burn Plan or invited to any meetings.
     The US imports between 8,000,000 and 14,000,000 pounds of pine nuts from countries such
as China every year. Pinenuts are second in value only to pecans among cultivated nuts. Their
food producing potential is unknown. Pinenuts are 147-500 times more profitable than grazing,
and 28 times more earth efficient than beef in terms of protein produced. Trees must be 60-100
years old to produce. The BLM is seeking to destroy the economic base of the Western Shoshone
people and other native people in Nevada by burning this potential source of income. Pinenuts
have been the subsistence food of Western Shoshone for centuries.
     The BLM has ignored Executive Order 12898 and its actions may be interpretted as attempts
at genocide. Native people make baskets from willows, placing the willows in their mouths to
split them, transferring the herbicides into their bodies and those of their offspring. They eat
substantial amounts of pine nuts containing these same herbicides. The wild game that is used by
them is poisoned by your herbicides. Now you are removing an economic base that they have
been trying to develop. The smoke from the fires you create will be breathed predominantly by
these same Native people who will be more heavily impacted than anyone in this state by your
actions. At the same time, you will be destroying Anoxious weeds whose roots and seeds are
used as the medicine to heal the people. The burned radionuclides and herbicides mostly have
effect on reproductive health. These things constitute genocide.And still you say there is no
reason to consider Environmental Justice.
     Once again, you open yourself for legal action and tort liability. The risk-to-benefit ratio is far
too great. Grazing animals, such as sheep, goats, and cows could be used to eat the vegetation.
Weeds can be removed by hands and weed-eaters. These alternative methods are not even
addressed. No alternative methods are addressed. You would rather destroy an entire culture and
leave no legacy for its children.


Johnnie L. Bobb

Dr. Bonnie Eberhardt Bobb

Share |