Juniper and Pinyon Pine tree forests are prominent features of the western landscape comprising numerous forests sprawling across millions of acres in five western U.S. states. These coniferous plants inhabit an intermediary zone, sandwiched between the ponderosa pine forests that grow in higher elevations and grass and shrublands in lower elevations. These hearty trees are well adapted to harsh environments with little water and relatively infertile soil. This has led to encroachment on shrublands over the years. Some estimates suggest that these conifers have expanded over hundreds of thousands of acres over the past century, leading to the displacement of native species including sage grouse and mule deer.
Over the years there has been a cooperative effort between state and federal agencies, private landowners, and conservation groups to address the issue, which has led to some positive results. According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Sage-grouse populations have been trending upwards for 15 years and over 1.2 million acres of habitat have been enhanced or restored in the state of Utah since 2006. Some of these tree removal activities have taken place near Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.
U.S. Representatives Chris Stewart (UT-02) and Scott Tipton (CO-03) have introduced legislation to streamline the approval process for these projects. According to a statement from Representative Stewart’s office, “The rapid encroachment of invasive trees on sagebrush habitat has threatened sage-grouse and mule deer populations and created dangerous wildfire conditions. H.R. 3543 would allow the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to quickly engage in habitat restoration and proactive vegetation management projects to protect the species and improve ecological conditions.”
The proposed legislation appears to be uncontroversial and a meaningful step in empowering land management agencies to fulfill their responsibilities. The legislation is awaiting approval in committee before it goes to the floor of the House for a vote.