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Old Growth Western Juniper

Antelope Plains, Devil’s Garden Ranger District, MNF

Sage Steppe Ecosystem Restoration Project

Modoc National Forest, Modoc County

Proposed February 19, 2015

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.

Wild flowers were in abundance when we visited the Antelope Plains project site on April 19, 2015. Click here for more images of the flowers that were blooming in this part of the project in April.

Galleries of Images

Individual Old Growth Juniper

Groups of Old Growth Juniper

Trunks of Old Growth Juniper

Wildflowers Blooming in April