The proposal would treat approximately 9,200 acres with a prescribed burn, in addition to treatments to control cheat grass and seeding or planting of seedlings of sagebrush and other native grasses. Lyman questioned if the county could trust the BLM not to further limit activities on the lands.
The BLM has issued an environmental assessment for the restoration project. County Planner Nick Sandburg reviewed the document and presented the Commission with a letter of response for their signature.
Sandburg reported that there would be no cattle grazing allowed in the area for a couple of growing seasons, but there were no other proposals for any access limitations.
He added that the area would be open to grazing once the project is complete. According to the discussion, only one grazer will be affected and while the county has not been in contact with that person, they have received reports that they are in favor of the project.
Lyman still expressed reservations, stating that temporary closures can become long term closures.
According to the 52 page EA issued by the BLM, they plan to remove pinion and juniper on the plateau by first cutting and making it available to the public for firewood. They also plan to hand-plant sagebrush seedlings within the burned areas.
The BLM states that the restoration project will improve the overall watershed health, crucial big game habitat and reduce the potential for future catastrophic fires.
The letter of comment from the County states their agreement that restoring sagebrush in the area is crucial for deer herds that winter in the Basin and on the plateau.
However, the County points out that there have been many similar projects by the BLM, and they encouraged them to monitor the project closely, as there is a great deal of risk involved with vegetation manipulation. The EA states that the BLM will monitor progress of the project and adjust if necessary to meet the original objective.
There was a great deal of public comment related to the issue during the commission meeting, specifically related to concern over the purpose of the project and the feeling that unless the BLM has a plan to keep the deer and elk herds out, they would destroy the seedlings before they have a chance to make a significant impact in the area.
Sandburg said cattle will be removed for two growing seasons, but there is no mention in the EA of deer and elk use. The letter questions if deer and elk use will affect survival of seedlings and if the BLM is considering any controls in this area.
Members of the public questioned if the project is simply a waste of money as there is no way to control deer and elk herds.
Sandburg said it is an expensive project the BLM is taking on, and there is risk involved. The EA is open for public comment through January 27.