“Habitat restoration.” “Watershed improvement.” The Bureau of Land Management’s talk sounds good, but there’s a less sanguine descriptor of the agency’s “treatment” of public lands: “chaining.” Chaining involves ripping native trees out by their roots, destroying habitat for countless species — some imperiled and declining — and potentially damaging archaeological sites.
Infrequently, chaining is beneficial. It may create grasslands for cattle, sheep and other ungulates, such as mule deer (popular with hunters); offer wildfire control; and, once recovered, new habitat for wildlife. But more often the chained land is overgrazed before it has recovered, and invasive species such as cheatgrass find a toehold. Once-diverse plant, animal and insect species are snuffed out. In other instances, heavy machinery has ripped through buried ancestral sites, smashing items of cultural importance.
Chaining on BLM lands is not new. But recently the BLM unleashed a series of initiatives that will allow chaining across the interior West with little regard to public or scientific opinion. This so-called “restoration” is proposed on 38.5 million acres in six states. To make matters worse, Utah is leveraging this effort with millions of taxpayer dollars (money the BLM needs to pursue the projects).
In Utah, the relationship between public land grazing and the BLM runs deep. No one expects the BLM to stop opening land to grazing. Yet studies show that only about one-third of vegetation treatment projects offer the payback the BLM seeks. Scientific review could assist in project efficiency and keep negative effects to a minimum. Public commentary could help the BLM see impacts they may otherwise miss. These new initiatives allow the agency to ignore both.
Please tell your elected officials: Dropping science and curtailing our right to comment on how the land we own is used is wrong.
Marjorie McCloy, Salt Lake City