Jeniffer Solis, Nevada Current
November 6, 2023
Federal land managers were given the thumbs up to remove trees from thousands of acres of pinyon-juniper woodlands in Nevada in an effort to reduce fire risk, a move environmental groups are calling a “scorched-earth plan.”
Last month, a Nevada federal judge refused to block the Bureau of Land Management’s plan to clear more than 380,000 acres of pinyon-juniper woodlands from two watersheds near the Great Basin National Park following a lawsuit by two conservation groups.
Weeks before the federal government’s tree removal plan was set to start in October, the two conservation groups — the Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project — filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in Nevada federal court to halt the project.
The groups initially sued over the project’s approval in March, arguing that the BLM’s environmental assessment violated several federal laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, by neglecting to study the possibilities of the project causing serious ecological harm.
“Spring Valley is one of the centers of my universe in the Great Basin—my work takes me there, I visit there in my spare time, and it is truly one of the most special places in the whole world to me,” said Patrick Donnelly, the Great Basin director for the Center for Biological Diversity at the time.
U.S District Judge Cristina Silva denied the groups request to halt the project while the lawsuit moves through the court system, explaining that the groups failed to show that their claims are likely to succeed on the merits of the case or raise serious questions moving forward.
Located near Great Basin National Park, the South Spring and Hamlin valleys contain about 384,000 acres of federal public land managed by the BLM. The watersheds are home to greater sage grouse, pinyon jays, pygmy rabbits, sagebrush shrub land, and pinyon-juniper forests considered sacred to the Western Shoshone people.
Attorneys for the conservation groups said they were disappointed by the ruling, and are assessing their options and considering next steps.
“BLM’s plan for this area is the product of regressive thinking, and it promises to irreparably damage the landscape in Spring and Hamlin Valleys. BLM is employing the same practices in this project that it used in the last century to eliminate native forests for the benefit of domestic livestock, with disastrous results for native wildlife,” said Center of Biological Diversity attorney Scott Lake in a statement.