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Groups Fight BLM Over Clear-Cutting In National Monument

Wild Utah Project
BLM bulldozers, using tools such as bullhog masticators and anchor chains, annually strip thousands of acres of native vegetation from public lands in the West.

Conservation groups are calling on the Bureau of Land Management to halt work on massive "vegetation treatment" programs inside Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. 
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Wild Utah Project said an analysis of existing scientific literature finds little evidence to support the BLM's assertion that mechanical vegetation removal benefits western public lands. Kya Marienfeld, an attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said the BLM is scheduled to use aggressive treatments such as chaining, mastication, and mulching to strip natural vegetation from more than 135,000 acres of the monument.

"The science really doesn't conclusively show that these treatments - in the way that they're being done, how they're being done and where - are even accomplishing a fraction of what the agency, when they propose them and fund them, are saying that they do," Marienfeld said.

She said the BLM annually spends tens of millions of taxpayer dollars destroying native pinyon pine, juniper forests and sagebrush stands. 

The BLM asserted its vegetation treatment projects improve forage or habitat for wildlife and reduce stream erosion and runoff. Scientific evidence has shown landscape-level vegetation projects rarely benefit wildlife or lessen stream runoff. 

Marienfeld said the BLM has been stripping vegetation in the national monument for years, but seems to assign a different purpose to it each year.

"Sometimes you get from the agency, 'Oh, we can go into this treatment and it will restore the area's natural character,' and then 10 years later it's, 'Well, no, this isn't wilderness quality anymore because we did one of these treatments,'" Marienfeld said.

She said the BLM's vegetation-removal process can change a beautiful stand of forest into a stretch of useless land.

"When you bring heavy machinery into an area that has really nice, thick, old healthy biocrust in the desert, you couldn't have vegetation unless you have that crust. And when you're dragging an anchor chain over it, it completely scalps the whole thing," she said.

The Alliance and its conservation partners have appealed the project to the Interior Department's Board of Land Appeals.