Summer 2007 Nevada Wilderness Project Newsletter


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Summer 2007 Nevada Wilderness Project Newsletter

  1. 1. Nevada Wilderness Project Photo by Warren Shaul Fire Season has taken hold of the west again!10? - Though the air in Nevada this summer has been intermittently filled with smoke, the hori-zon lit by fire casting eerie glows on the mountains, “there Here in Mesquite, I watch the thunderheads build over the Arizona strip, and hold my breath hoping there will not be the tall white plume of smoke at sunset.are few threats to wilderness landscapes from wildfire, per There are tens of thousands of acres affected by wildfirese,” says George Wuerthner, ecologist, author and photogra- just beyond the Virgin Mountains so far this year.pher. “Wildfires are a natural ecological process that actu- In 2005, the Mojave Desert lost 700,000 acres ofally preserves wildness” Still, joshua tree forest, black-Wuerthner says that there are brush, creosote, and piniona lot of other considerations and juniper ecosystems in theinvolved in managing lands Southern Nevada Complexand fire. Wuerthner’s book, Fire (SNCF). Gold Butte’sThe Wildfire Reader: A Cen- (2005) fire was minimaltury of Failed Forest Policy, at 18,000 acres, comparedwas published in 2006 by the to those in the then newlyFoundation for Deep Ecology. designated Big 4, Mormon, “It is important to real- Meadow Valley, Delmar andize that wildfire is a natural Clover Mountain Wilderness.ecological [regime] in The vastness of the Fire in the Gold Butte Complex,most of Nevada’s veg- SNCF had a combination of causes. Record rainfall Nancy Halletative communities,” nurtured invasive species such as red brome and saharaWuerthner says, but adds that the history of fire suppres- mustard which carried the fire throughout areas unaccus-sion in the west has not been the sole influence on all plant tomed to fire. High winds and the invasive grasses carriedcommunities. “This is important to understand.” the fire across large areas quickly. The devastation was Much of Nevada’s wild lands are grazed by cattle and heart breaking. I had advocated so passionately for themuch of that land has been affected by the spread of cheat- Big 4 to be designated Wilderness!grass. “Cheatgrass is a highly flammable annual,” Wuerth- What is next for these wilderness areas? First, aner says. “It dries out sooner than native perennials and multi agency group of dedicated land managers, thehence lengthens the fire season.” That coupled with high BAER team [Burned Area Emergency Response, a Na-grazing eventually taxes the native grasses’ ability to recover tional Interagency Team], was assigned to work on the continued on page 7 continued on page 2In This Issue There’s something in the air across Nevada. It’s been hazy all summer. Fires are burning across the stateand region affecting urban and wild areas alike. Burned areas from previous years continue to recover. In this issue of the Newsletter we get updates on burn recovery from our Gold Butte Organizer, NancyHall (pg 1) and Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition fire restoration specialist, Neil Frakes (pg 3), as well assome some awesome insights into the ecology of fire and fire management from George Wuerthner. Thank you to Neil, Nancy and George for offering your expertise!
  2. 2. Summer 2007Nevada Wilderness Project WEE-thump. It’s a funny word. Or is it? It is a Paiute word meaning “ancient Northern Office ones” and the namesake of a small wilderness near Searchlight, Nevada. The Weethump 8550 White Fir Street Wilderness is home to some of the oldest Joshua Trees in the Mojave Desert and is an Reno, NV 89523 example of how a small group of people in today’s world can preserve a piece of the 775.746.7850 ancient wilds for future generations. In 2002 It became the first citizen proposed wilder- ness on BLM land in the country to be enacted through grass-roots action. Southern Office is a blog chronicling our adventures in wild places and the Ne- 4220 S. Maryland Pkwy vada Wilderness Projects efforts to replicate that success. We invite you to be a part Suite 402D Las Vegas, NV 89119 of it by posting comments on the blog, adding your photos to 702.369.1871 groups/weethump and sending us your stories from Nevada’s Wilderness, to A 501(c) (3) non-profit You can also find articles from the newsletter on the blog as well as extended con- corporation tent including interviews with prominent people in the community, photography, andNWP Board of Directors addidional informative articles on the web. Bret Birdsong, President 3 Ways to Keep It Wild in Nevada: Brian O’Donnell, Vice President SWIM, BIKE AND RUN! Lynn Schiek, Secretary Join the Nevada Wilderness Project for the Pumpkinman Triathlon outside of Las Chriss Todd Vegas at Lake Mead and Boulder City on October 14th 2007. Tori King This event will be a fun way to make new friends, get in NWP Staff shape and help protect Nevada’s wild places all at the same John Wallin time. Director There is the option to participate in either an intermedi- Kristie Connolly ate distance triathlon (1.5k swim, 40k bike and 10k run), sprint Associate Director distance triathlon (.75k swim, 20k bike and 5k run), or be part John Tull of a relay team. For more information about the event and the Conservation director course check out the Pumpkinman website at http://bbscendur- Mackenzie Banta Development Director In order to support the Nevada Wilderness Project’s Cameron Johnson important work, athletes will raise $1200 if they do a full triathlon and $600 as part ofNorthern Nevada Otreach Director a relay team. The Project will cover your entrance fee. Commitment is required by Au- Nick Dobric gust 15th 2007. For more information please feel free to contact Mackenzie Banta or Cynthia Scholl at or 775.746.7851.Southern Nevada Outreach Director Cynthia Scholl Membership Coordinator continued from page 1 Nancy Hall Emergency Stabilization Plan. Having volunteered with the BLM, and my familiarity Gold Butte Organizer with the archaeological resources, I had the opportunity to work with the BAER team. It was amazing to see the amount of area covered by the team in one week and the intensi- Coalition Partners ty of the energy that flowed through the task force. Next, Mother Nature’s plan begins to Campaign for America’s Wilderness progress. Shoots from the base of the joshua Friends of Nevada Wilderness trees began to appear, bunch grasses and the Red Rock Audubon Siciety desert almond began to regrow. The Wilderness SicietyThe Nevada Wilderness Project by Nancy Hallis committed to saving the spectac- Gold Butte Organizer ular, rugged-and imperiled-publiclands in Nevada as Wilderness, the strongest protection possible
  3. 3. Summer 2007Southern Nevada Complex Fire Recovery by Neil Frakes Followed by a wet summer and relatively wet winter theSouthern Nevada Complex Fires that burned in 2005 weredominated by invasive annual grasses such as cheatgrass andred brome in 2006. This is especially true at lower elevations.However, the 2006/’07 winter was comparitively dry, and theseareas tend to not have as much red brome/cheatgrass currently.Rather, they tend to be dominated by a non-native annual forbcalled Erodium (also known as storksbill or filaree). At thehigher elevations, cheatgrass and red brome still tend to domi-nate. But native perennial plants are also regenerating, moresothan at the lower elevations. Resprouting shrubs such as scruboak, serviceberry, and skunkbush sumac continue to growlarger. Native perennial forbs, especially desert globemallow,mock vervain (Glandularia gooddingii), and showy goldeneyeare common in some areas. Many of the higher elevation burned blackbrush andpinyon-juniper communities were seeded with native perennialspecies in wilderness during the first winter post-fire. As of last Joshua tree sprouts 5 months after theyear, few of these seeded species were establishing. We’re just beginning to monitor these areas this year, so I really can’t fire, Nancy Hallsay what’s going on out there. I don’t feel especially comfortable projecting into the future, because I don’t think we reallyknow much about how these areas respond to fire in the long term. I have some personal hypotheses, but only time willtell. The Desert National Wildlife wildlife. And if that’s not enough, the Department of Energy wants to take a piece of our Refuge and use it for Refuge Needs Your Help energy corridor development. We do have the opportunity to preserve a truly Less than fifteen miles from the Las Vegas Strip unique desert wilderness experience. The wildlife service is a place that is on the opposite end of the spectrumfrom the eye-piercing lights, hordes of gambling touristsand towering casino hotels. The place is the Desert Na-tional Wildlife Refuge. Here the stars light up the night sky,hordes of wildlife call it home and mountain ranges towerover remote valleys. Southern Nevada is blessed to have one of the wildestplaces left in the contiguous US. Covering over 1.5 millionacres, the Refuge is the largest wildlife refuge outside ofAlaska. Established in 1936 for the protection and enhance-ment of Desert Bighorn Sheep it now contains the largestpopulation of them in the world. The wildlife service stated,“It is doubtful that any part of the State of Nevada offers DNWR photo by Ramsey Honga greater diversity of animal life than the Desert National has recommended the area be designated as wildernessWildlife Refuge.” for decades and citizens have advocated for it in two Not all is nirvana in the Refuge. Development from different public lands bills. What the refuge needs mostCoyote Springs in the east and North Las Vegas is bring- is a constituency of people who care about the place anding houses right up to the boundary. The rapid growth want to see it preserved for future generations to enjoy.threatens to deplete the springs on which wildlife depend. For ways to get involved and help out contact:Military conflicts from the Nevada Test Site and the Nellis Force Range also clash with the needs of the Refuge’s
  4. 4. We need to let natural fires burn without suppression in wilderness areas so they can play their critical ecological role. And it’s important to realize that not all fires will be small ones. Big blazes do most of the ecological work. George Wuerthner Summer
  5. 5. Summer
  6. 6. Summer 2007 Pinyon-Juniper Encroachment by John Tull Many of you have probably heard people talk about height alter the vistas and appearance of a mountain range.the “P-J Community” in reference to the dominant veg- Plant diversity is generally reduced because there are feweretation in the mountainous Great Basin. P-J refers to the species growing in the shade of the trees than would occurpinyon-juniper complex of tree species that is common at in an open grassland or shrub community. Also, erosionmid and upper elevations throughout Nevada’s mountain increases due to the lack of small plants acting as a mecha-ranges, typically from around 5,250 feet up to about 8,000 nism to hold the soil in place during rainfall and other wa-feet. In Nevada, singleleaf pinyon (Pinus monophylla) and ter run-off events (Blackburn 1975, Blackburn et al. 1992,Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) are the most com- Pierson et al. 1994). Wildlife species change as a result ofmon species of each type, and pinion occurs at the highest plant changes as well. Most notably, mule deer and cougarselevations have greatlywith juniper increased inmixing in numbers inat middle Nevada be-elevations. cause of the In expansion ofrecent de- the P-J com-cades, there munity.has been Theconcern greatestabout the change mayapparent be to theexpansion fire cycle,of P-J into but throughother vegetation communities. This expansion is frequently the interaction of P-J and other plant and animal species.referred to as “encroachment” because the P-J complex P-J communities produce heavy fuels in high loads thatsignificantly alters the plant composition underneath the can carry wildfire at extreme intensities if the forest canopytrees (understory). Scientific consensus appears to point burns. Bark beetles and drought can lead to mortality ofto a rapid expansion of these two tree species out of rocky large stands of P-J, and these areas are susceptible to ex-areas and steep mountain slopes and into grasslands and treme wildfire conditions that are likely to lead to replace-other lower elevation sites (Tausch and West 1988, Miller ment of the vegetation community with cheatgrass (Bromusand Tausch 2001), primarily due to fire suppression and tectorum), a non-native grass that has greatly transformedfine fuels reduction from extensive livestock grazing (Knapp the fire cycle and plant and animal diversity across theand Soule 1998, Miller and Rose 1999). This expansion Great Basin (Miller and Tausch 2001).immediately followed expansion into Nevada by pioneersabout 130 years ago. To see the reference list, please visit www.weethump. P-J expansion results in many changes to the land- com. Photo of PJ in the Robert’s Mountains by Mike Hen-scape. Most notably, trees that can reach 30-40 feet in derson. The Sisters, Lyon County, NV Directions from Reno – Head south on 395 to border. Currently it is designated as a 20,000 acre ForestHolbrook Junction. Turn left onto Rt 208 and follow it Service Roadless Area that the agency has listed as capablethrough the town of Wellington until the intersection of for wilderness, only part of this area is actually in Nevada.Hwy 338. Turn south onto 338 towards Bridgeport and The peak itself stands at well over 10,000 ft and offersfollow until reaching a right hand turn for Risue Rd, Forest amazing views of the Eastern Sierra, the Great Basin Rang-Service Rt 050. DeLorme Nevada Gazetteer D5 6. es as far east as the Toiyabes, and very cool temperatures, even in the summer. The best route to the summit is via theVitals – East Sister Peak is part of the Sisters in the Sweet- west side of the peak. There is a pack trail leading throughwater Mountains which span across the Nevada/California the canyon, but to gain the peak one must travel overland.
  7. 7. continued from page 1 Summer 2007year to year. Wuerthner has some great ideas on how to approachmanaging fire risk in urban wilderness versus remote wil-derness, e.g. Mount Rose or Mount Charleston versus ArcDome or the Jarbidge. “The first thing that has to be done is to eliminate thekinds of practices that favor changes in fire regimes. Sincelivestock grazing is permitted in most wilderness areas, thisprobably has the biggest impacts on wildfire management.As long as livestock are spreading weed species like cheat-grass, weakening native grasses, trampling wet meadows,destroying cryptogramic crusts, and so forth, you are goingto favor the spread of cheatgrass and other weedy speciesthat provides the fine fuels that favor fire spread.” “The second thing is to use more prescribed burns inthe appropriate habitats (i.e. vegetation regimes that hadhigh frequency low intensity blazes) outside of wildlands toreduce fuels. Such treatments have to be done frequentlybecause fire actually stimulates plant growth, so you havebe prepared to do prescribed burns on a frequent basis.Right now we spend millions of dollars fighting fires butlittle on prescribed burns which can help to reduce the sense, county commissioners and state legislatures thatspread of fires. However, it must be noted that under severe refuse to adopt land use planning that promotes urbanconditions of drought, wind, high temperatures, and so growth boundaries are putting the public at risk. Theyforth, prescribed burns will not prevent the spread of fires.” are creating conditions that will, over time, make it more “The third thing is obvious--we need to let natural dangerous for everyone, increase taxes or reduce servicesfires burn without suppression in wilderness areas so they as more money is diverted to fight fires that, under othercan play their critical ecological role. And it’s important circumstances, would not be fought at all. If you care aboutto realize that not all fires will be small ones. Big blazes do saving tax dollars, saving lives, and preserving natural land-most of the ecological work.” scapes, then you have to get serious about land use plan- “Fourth we need to implement land use zoning. I ning and zoning. Oregon has urban growth boundaries thatknow these are unpopular, but the spread of sprawl is greatly restricts urban sprawl, and hence fire fighting costs. contributing to not Oregon’s model is worth emulating.” only higher costs “Fifth, there needs to be more emphasis placed upon for fire suppression, homeowner responsibility for home protection. Reduc- but also affecting ing flammable materials around homes goes a long ways the ability of agen- towards reducing fire hazard. A metal roof significantly cies to permit fires reduces house flammability.” to burn in areas For the complete transcript of our interview with that would oth- George, please visit For more on George erwise not pose a Wuerthner, visit problem--such as the Mount Rose photos of Hawkin Fire by Maresa Martin Wilderness. In a This recurring section will give you, the member, greater in- sight into natural science issues that affect wilderness areas. It will showcase the views and expertise of prominent ex- perts from throughout the public lands community. We will fea- ture highlights from the responses here. Please visit www., NWP’s blog, for the complete interviews.
  8. 8. Is the southern Nevada Big 4 Wilderness still wild? You bet! Section 4(d) (1) of the Wilderness Act of 1964allows fire fighting in designated wilderness. The Nevada Public Lands Bills have addressed just that. In 2000, the BlackRock Bill clarified fire management operations and the Clark County Bill in 2002 included broader language allowing forfire suppression and needed mechanized use. In Nevada, we are fortunate to have dedicated agency employees, and the Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition firerestoration specialist, Neil Frakes, working gently with Mother Nature to restore these ecosystems we so cherish as wild. More from Nancy Hall on the Southern Nevada Complex Fire on page 3NWP Events! NorthernHikes/Events: Nevada:Happy Hours @ Great Basin Brewery: Aug 1th – Final Sparks Farmers MarketAug 1th -8pm Aug 19 – Wovoka Proposed Wilderness, Lyon CoSept 18th -8pm Sept 8th – Wovoka Proposed Wilderness, Lyon CoOct 1th -8pm October 5-8 NV Wilderness Rendezvous, Esmeralda CoNov 0th -8pm October 12th – Wild Men 2008 Calendar Party, Reign, LV, NV October 14th – Pumpkinman Triathlon, LV, NVSouthern Nevada:August 15th: Wild Nevada slideshow at the Dula Gym roundtable at 10am.August 16th and September 20th: Henderson Farmers Market 10am-2pm.Aug 16th: Happy Hour @ Crown Anchor in Las Vegas at 6pm.Aug 18th: Wilderness Values Trip to Mount Charleston at 8am.September 1: We will be having an informational table and collecting letters at the Mount Charleston Bike Race.Sept 15-16: Desert National Wildlife Refuge evening hike.Sept 20: Volunteer Night. Please contact the illustrious Nick Dobric for details on these events @ (702) 369-1871 Protect your Wild LandsIt’s really easy to help the Nevada Wilderness Project preserve your land... Just cut this form off, write a check, cram it inan envelope and mail it to us @ NV Wilderness Project, 8550 White Fir Street; Reno, NV 89523Enclosed is my donation of: I would like to make a recurring donation: comments:$35 Monthly$50 Every 3 Months$100 Annually$250$500 Please make check or moneyOther Amount _______ order oayable to: For secure credit card transactions, please visit Nevada Wilderness Project Permit #200 Reno, NV PAID U.S. Postage Non-Profit Org. Reno, Nevada 89523 8550 White Fir Street