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Calling for responsible forest management and reverence to the land

July 26, 2001


Dear Field Officer:
 
 

I have became greatly concerned about the number of forested public lands which have been deforested throughout wild fires and other treatment methods.

    I began correspondence with the Ely BLM about these concerns in August of 2000. Since then a pattern of nonresponsiveness has emerged. In response to the public comment on EA NO -040-01-035, I am enclosing and incorporate by reference the multiple pieces of correspondence addressing pinyon woodland management issues.
    I have great concerned that the Nevada BLM Ely Field Office is failing in its NEPA obligations and exhibiting a pattern of disregard for its legislated responsibilities. The exhibits to my public comment are intended to illustrate that pattern, together with a reiteration of the issues presented in those letters. In this regard, I wish to note, that I was informed of this EA by another interested party and did not receive any written notice from the BLM. Likewise, I have not received information requested March 5th on maintenance burning with respect to this, or any other project.

Anytime the term pinyon is used, I am specifically referencing to the species p.monophylla. I would request that when BLM responds to my comments that it specifically cites research pertaining to this species of pinyon, rather generalized pinyon studies or pinyon research performed on species p.edulis.

I. Unresolved Issues and Concerns Previously Raised

In August of 2000, I began corresponding and attempting to dialogue with the BLM about pinenuts, pinyon life and food production cycles, together with other related issues such as obligatory bird species and migratory animal populations which depend upon pinenuts as a food staple.

August 2000, Letter to BLM-

Misinformation utilized in land planning documents about the life cycle of pinyon.

Consideration of the economic value of the pinyon pinenut. (147 to 500 times more potential for public lands than grazing revenues.)

Consideration of the effects of pinyon canopy shade upon soil moisture, reduced evaporation rates, cooler earth temptress, and climate maintenance.

Lack of documentation on pinenut production and harvest levels.

Lack of documenting pinenut production levels.

BLM Response: NONE

December 2000, Letter to BLM

Specific written request to be included in discussions re: pinyon and all proposals relating to or possibly impacting pinyon range.

Formally notes lack communications with Ely BLM, and not receiving notices.

Questioning consideration on obligatory and migrating bird species upon pinyon as a food source

The effects of fire upon mature nut producing pinyon trees.

BLM RESPONSE: NONE

March 2, 2001 Letter to BLM

Documents telephone conference I initiated regarding pinyon concerns.

Requests that all maintenance and chaining projects including dates and acreage of original treatments.

Notes discussion on lack of documentation on pinyon pinenut production.

BLM RESPONSE:

Telephone call from William Dunn documented in March 5 letter. No response to specific p.monophylla data or issues raised in other correspondence.

March 5, 2001 Letter to BLM

BLM to assured, I would placed on mailing list through out the state which propose project effecting pinyon stands.

BLM once again made aware of species information errors in planning documents.

BLM Response Letter: 3/13/01

General comments regarding Ely District being a jewel. No response to issues presented. Invitation to attend workshop. (incorporated into exhibits)

March 27, 2001 Letter to BLM

With respect to the issue of radionuclides and depleted uranium I requested the following considerations with respect to the Ely Natural Managed Fire Plan. I reintegrate these questions with respect to the current proposed action:

BLM Manual Section 1703 Hazardous Materials Management. In light of the concern for radioactive materials being redistributed through the environment as a result of fire, wild or man made, we need to consider this matter with the utmost care. The following sections from the Hazard Materials Policy delineated BLM responsibility:

1. Protect public health and safety and environmental resources by minimizing environmental contamination on public lands and BLM owned or operated facilities.

2. Identify and control imminent hazards or threats to human health and/or the environment from hazardous substance releases on public lands.

3. Inventory, assess, and manage the cleanup of hazardous substance release sites on public lands that present a potential risk to human health and the environment and promote healthy ecosystems

4. Management of all releases or threatened releases on or affecting public lands or BLM facilities, giving immediate priority based on hazard and risk. Priority shall be given to the control of all releases or threatened releases that pose an imminent health, safety or environmental danger.

5. BLM shall maintain an inventory of potential hazardous material sites.

The Manual identifies 12 separate pieces of environmental legislation which the BLM must consider including:

Executive Order 12856, Federal Compliance with Right-to-Know laws and Pollution Prevention Requirements. August 3, 1993.

* Further discussion of these issues in later text of this letter

BLM Response:

Telephone call. We are no experts and will have to find some. This is too big a problem for our local people. Discusses steps taken to date to deal with radionuclide issue. My letter to go into a pile of letters raising similar issues. Written response may take a while(NOTE: NO Response received !)

March 29, 2001 Letter to BLM

Written in response to telephone call referenced above. Questions why issue does not constitute a change in conditions per NEPA regulations. Requests general information on the status of contaminates on public lands. Requests written responses to letters and copy of opinion regarding Western Shoshone

BLM Response:

NONE

April 10, 2001 Letter to BLM, Robert Abbey:

Requests further study prior to utilizing fire as land management tool. Discussion regarding UXO (unexploded ammunitions). Notes no written responses to early letters and concerns over issues. Extensive discussion regarding depleted uranium and the effects of fire.

BLM Response:

May 7 letter from Robert Abbey. We will hold a conference with interested parties and inform you of our findings.

Since the letter of May 7th, I have called multiple times and received assurances information would be forthcoming. Do date there has been no further response by the BLM.

April 30, 2001, Face to face conference

Request for information documenting mature pinyon stands.

BLM Response:

None

(Updated 8/28/02- No correspondece ever received. Issues NEVER addressed)


II General Comments

In 1999, 113 large fires (300+ acres) burned 1,642,484 acres statewide (all agencies and private). Another 1,039 smaller fires brought the total to 1,870,285 acres burned. (http://www.nv.blm.gov/2wgbcc/summary/firelist.htm) . There was also a prescribed burning of 11,269 acres. In 2000, the State of Nevada saw 699,210 acres of wild fire, and 19.607 acres of prescribed burns. I would like documentation on acreage treated in other manners, such as chaining, or hebcides use. I have drafted the following chart and would like to have you assistance in completing the information.

Wildfires Prescribed Burns Other treatment Methods Totals

1999 1,870,285 11,269 1,871,414

2000 699,210 19,607 7,18,817

Totals 2,756,780 30876 2,787,656 The effects to public lands during the 1999 and 2001 fire season represent such a huge changes in the landscape. The Lincoln County Elk Management Plan (LCEMP) was completed and signed in April 1999, prior to the 1999 fire season and the data therein is inherently outdated. Other underlying managementís plans upon which this document is tiered and incorporates by reference including the Programmatic EA for the Ely District Managed Natural and Prescribed Fire Plan EA NO. NV-040-00-020, fail to account for changes brought as a result of the 1999 and 2000 fire season.

III - Specific Plan Referenced Comments

"Over the last 150 years sagebrush and pinyon/juniper canopy has increased directly with the loss of grass and forb composition and fire suppression. Where sagebrush ecological sites occur next to woodlands, pinyon and juniper composition has increased on sagebrush sites at the expense of grass, forb and sagebrush composition."

Comment:

These forests have a burn interval pattern of 1 in every 500 years. Fire suppression has not been a contributing factor in landscape change. (also see, comments under section D. Fire Behavior and Fire Effects)

Please provide the bases for the statement that over the last 150 years the canopy has increased.

See, Pinyon Juniper Conference Report. Energy Crisis in 19th Century Great Basin Woodlands, James A. Young and Jerry D. Budy, p.23. Historically, the Great Basin Forest was decimated in fueling the smelters for silver ore in the 1800s. 4,000 to 5000 acres of pinyon were cut annually to supply the Eureka Mills, alone. This article continues to recount historic deforestation of the Great Basin including pinyon cutting for fence posts, heating, to fuel trains, steam tractors .In 1902 it was observed every mountain range in the northern Great Basin show evidence of fires attributable in part to promiscuous burning such as Fires set in woodlands to facilitate movements of sheep.

An issue that was raised during scoping was the possibility that conducting prescribed burns would remobilize radionuclides deposited during nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site. To address this issue the Nevada BLM State Director is convening a group involving agencies such as the Nevada Test Site, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Department of Energy (DOE) to address this issue. In addition to this group a monitoring program would also be setup to determine if the remobilization of radionuclides occurred and to what extend as a result of the prescribed burns. This monitoring would involve working with DOE and/or EPA to conduct air, soil and vegetation sampling. The air sampling would involve setting up air samplers, collecting air passed through a filter and then analyzed for gamma emitters. Soil and vegetation samples would be collected before the prescribed burns and analyzed for the same type of indicators.

.

Comment:

The Community Environmental Monitoring Program (CEMP) is a network of monitoring stations located in communities surrounding the Nevada Test Site (NTS) that monitor the airborne environment for manmade radioactivity that could result from NTS activities. http://www.cemp.dri.edu/index.html. It is my suggestion that BLM plot the year 2000 fires, with wind directions, and compare this with readings from these monitors. First. While being opposed to this plan for many reasons, I would wish to see the BLM represent that air testing be conducted indepedanly from monitors already in place, and directly measure fire emissions. More information is needed on this entire issue prior to any prescribed burning.

The proposed action is to maintain 50 to 70 percent of the following existing vegetation

conversion projects through the use of prescribed fire:

Blythe Springs (See Map 2) is approximately 5,200 acres

Fife Flat project (See Map 3) is approximately 700 acres

Mahogany (See Map 4) is approximately 2,500 acres

Horse Thief (See Map 5) is approximately 2,300 acres

Comment:

Please identify original areas treated in acreage as compared to maintenance treatment pursuant to this plan.

The proposed action would have no impacts to the following: Threatened or endangered species;

Comment:

I understand that there may be threatened or endangered species of bats in the area, together with certain birds. Please identify the information utilized in making this conclusion.

The proposed action would have no impacts to the following....."hazardous

and solid wastes; water quality; and wilderness values".

Comment:

I do not understand how this conclusion was drawn given the issue of radionuclides. Likewise, the wilderness value of converting woodland to grassland is huge. Especially to wildlife and bird populations dependent upon the trees for food and nesting.

A. Noxious Weeds

A weeds risk assessment of the proposed action indicates a low potential for spread of noxious

Comment:

Fire has been a major factor in the proliferation of cheat grass. What is the basis for this statement?

D. Fire Behavior and Fire Effects

Fuel loading and fuel continuity determines how fire behaves within an ecosystem. Fire

suppression and past management actions have increased fuel loading. This fuel loading can increase fire intensity, resulting in larger hotter fires. These fires have a higher potential to be catastrophic fire events impacting public health, safety and property. Reducing fuel loading and breaking up the fuel loading and continuity within various vegetative communities through vegetation management would result in smaller less intense fires. The long-term goal is to allow fire to resume a more natural ecological role.

Fire effects on the environment differ depending on the fire behavior, fire intensity, fire duration and fuel loading. Hotter more intense fires usually have more negative impacts on recovery of the watershed. For example, negative impacts to soil fertility and stabilization, and vegetative diversity and composition.

Comment:

Recent analysis by the Nevada Desert Research Institute and Spripts Institute of fire data indicates otherwise:

"Historical annual fire starts from lightning on BLM land (1964-96) and U.S.D.A. Forest Service land (1970-96) are plotted for each western state to show interannual variability and trends. Interannual variability is large in all states, but only certain BLM states (primarily in the Great Basin) show evidence of increasing fire starts through time. We are in the process of analyzing these data further, but we believe that these trends are due largely to changes in vegetation type (primarily grasses) which are more condusive to ignition by lightning. We are also examining these vegetation changes in context of regional climate change."Western Regional Climate Center http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/fire/FW2.html

In short, the problems with fire in the Great Basin are the result of vegetation conversion. Grasslands dry out much quicker and become more susceptible to ignition from lightening. Alternatively, forested land retain more "green moisture" and are less like to be the ignited by lightening. Compounding this problem is the issue of cheat grass, which is an invasive species. Cheat grass dries out in May, as compared to Native grasses which dry out in mid - summer. The BLM itself noted, "During the 1999 and 2000 fire season, the chief culprit has been thick, dried mats of cheatgrass." http://www.nv.blm.gov/News.Releases/Press_Releases/fy_2001/PR_01_51.htm

New data must significantly changes conditions and the BLM is legally obligated to review and revise larger management plans. This proposed action, together with outdated larger land use plans contributes to the danger of fire in this region. (ALSO SEE, MY PAGE, www.pinenut.com/cheatgrass.htm)
 
 

VI. CUMULATIVE IMPACTS

The resource values identified during internal and external scoping that are of major importance and which would be analyzed in a cumulative sense are: 1) Elk Management and, 2) Watershed Integrity.

Comment:

There has been a repeated failure on the part of the BLM to address the economic value of pine nuts, together with a failure to research and document the resource and dependent species of migratory birds and other forest animals.

Present actions

Current land management is focused on improving vegetative condition within the Ely District. Vegetation conversion projects (e.g., mechanical treatments, managed natural fire, prescribed fire, and maintenance of existing projects) are being implemented with a focus on closed canopy pinyon-juniper communities to set succession back to an earlier stage and thus better protect the watershed and provide additional forage for large ungulates such as elk, deer and wild horses.
 
 

Comment:

What percentage do pinenuts represent in the diet of elk and deer?

In the foreseeable future, approximately 100,000 acres within the Ely District are being proposed for treatment annually through the ENLRP to improve the health of vegetation communities.

Comment:

I restate the need for revision of existing management plans as the result of lack of data on p.monophylla utilized in underlying planning documents and new information emerging regarding the cause of fire in the Great Basin Region. The proposed treatments fail in multiple respects, many of which are discussed in the body of this letter.

VII. PROPOSED MITIGATING MEASURES

If noxious weeds appear in the project areas after completion they will be treated.

Comment:

Please identify how such treatment would occur. This EA states:

Chemical treatment was considered and also dropped from further analysis because of the effects on mountain brush communitiesí plants and the small window of time available. Chemicals used are not pinyon/juniper specific and would kill mountain brush species such as sagebrush, serviceberry and bitterbrush where as fire would result in sprouting of the mountain brush species.

IV Other Comments

Failure to consider Economic Impacts

As the result of misinformation about species p.monophylla in land plan processes, this EA fails to consider the fact a pinyon will not produce mature seed until the tree is somewhere between 75 - 100 years of age.
 
 

[S]ingleleaf pinyon trees do not begin bearing cones before they are 35 years old and do not begin producing good seed crops earlier than 100 years. www.nv.blm.gov/bmountain/misc/pinenut. Citing, R. 0. Meeuwig, J. D. Budy, and R. L. Everett http://willow.ncfes.umn.edu/silvics_manual/Volume_1/pinus/monophylla.htm

Underlying plan documents dismiss pinenuts production as "a result of climatic condition and beyond the scope of the planning process". This statement is not true and the failure to consider this critical component of forest health represents a vioalation of NEPA. Marble Mountain Audubon Society
v. Rice, 914 F.2d 179 (9th Cir. 1990).

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