The Devil’s Garden Ranger District of the Modoc National Forest is proposing the
Antelope Plains Sage Steppe Ecosystem Restoration Project. This project proposes
to restore upland vegetation by removing invasive juniper on approximately 1,628
acres of western juniper.
The official proposal document states under the PURPOSE and NEED section that “ Juniper
is expanding into the project area which was formerly dominated by sagebrush, the
preferred habitat for sage grouse. As juniper encroaches, sagebrush condition declines
and habitat quality can decline to a point where grouse will no longer use the area.
The purpose of the project is to enhance upland and riparian ecological conditions
and provide for improved foraging and nesting conditions for sage grouse. Although
the area is not currently used by grouse, improvements in habitat can encourage the
expansion of grouse into formerly occupied areas.”
This is a worthy argument and goal supported by some science. The Forest Service
would very much like to restore sage steppe habitat on the Modoc National Forest
and have sage grouse move into the restored area. The problem is that the Forest
Service has no money to restore suitable habitat on its own and must rely on juniper
removal projects initiated by the National Resource Conservation Service which does
have money for sage grouse habitat improvement projects. Unfortunately, projects
paid for by the NRCS are brought forward by public land permit holders who run cattle
on public land and wish to increase forage for their cattle on public land. A Forest
Service project inspector once told us regarding an NRCS juniper removal project
that NRCS would not pay for a project if there were too many juniper, including old
growth juniper, remaining on the project site. This conflict of interest between
the Forest Service, the land manager, and the NRCS, the agency that pays for the
project, has caused and continues to cause disastrous effects to the old growth
juniper communities on the Modoc National Forest.
The measuring stick has six inch increments in all images.
These two images of an old growth juniper community within the Antelope Plains Project
illustrate the conflict of interest between Forest Service habitat restoration and
NRCS range enhancement. There is no young encroaching juniper present, the sage is
healthy, forbs and native grasses thrive, yet because of a desire to increase forage
for cattle this old growth community is included in the juniper treatment area by
the NRCS permit holder and the Forest Service. Often NRCS juniper removal projects
are even implemented by ranch crews under the direction of the permit holder, creating
an even greater conflict of interest.
Old growth juniper with multiple trunks are routinely cut down during juniper removal
projects on the Modoc National Forest. When an old growth juniper has noticeable
growth leaders in the top branches,such as the single old juniper illustrated in
the two images above, it is almost always cut down during a juniper project. Even
though this tree exhibits other old growth characteristics such as an asymmetrical
top, deeply furrowed, fibrous trunk bark and large branches with lichen at the base,
it will probably be cut down during the Antelope Plains juniper project. Forest Service
literature states that only one old growth characteristic must be present, not all,
for a tree to be considered an old growth and therefore preserved.
Active cavity nests are quite prevalent in the old growth juniper communities within
the Antelope Plains juniper removal project because of the great age of the old growth
trees. Many old juniper with active cavity nests were cut down by the Forest Service
during the implementation of the Pinnacle Unit juniper removal project in 2014. Just
another reason for the Forest Service to start flagging the old growth juniper communities
as exclusion areas before implementation of juniper removal projects.
We have found Cusick’s stickseed, Hackelia cusickii, only under old growth juniper
in old juniper woodlands. This one is within the Antelope Plains project. Hackelia
cusickii is listed by the California Native Plant Society in its list of rare native
plants as uncommon in California. Cusick’s stickseed does not survive after the protection
of the old juniper is gone.