SUWA members have become increasingly familiar over the last several years with the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) destructive practice of vegetation removal. SUWA continues to oppose these machinery-heavy projects because of the long-lasting effects they have on biological soil crusts, wildlife, native plants, cultural resources, and other irreplaceable values on our public lands, including those proposed for wilderness designation under America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.

But these projects, which often include bulldozing and mulching native forests and shrublands, can also have a significant negative effect on the global fight against climate change.

We’ve included a special report in the summer issue of Redrock Wilderness that sets out the case. Moving Backward on Climate and 30×30 presents scientific connections between chaining, mastication, and other surface-disturbing vegetation removal actions and the rampant desertification on the Colorado Plateau. Consequences of this activity include aerial dust, increased premature snowmelt in the Rockies, and water loss in the Colorado River basin.

The report also explains the surprising importance of dryland ecosystems—i.e., piñon pine and juniper forests and sagebrush shrublands with biological soil crusts—in sequestering large amounts of carbon, a critical element of the fight against worsening climate change. This report will be the basis for discussions with agency staff, congressional leaders, and media in the coming months.

The BLM’s large-scale vegetation projects lack scientific support and are likely to exacerbate climate change. Copyright Twig Media/SUWA

Encouraged by the Biden administration’s commitment to fighting climate change, SUWA also recently coordinated a letter to the Department of the Interior regarding climate and vegetation removal on public lands. The letter, signed by nearly 40 regional and national conservation organizations and former agency staffers, requested that Interior halt several last-minute Trump-era decisions that would accelerate devegetation projects without public or scientific review and asked for a desperately-needed review of the BLM’s vegetation removal program—in particular, its effects on climate, native ecosystem health, and drought.

Our message to the land managers is simple: stop using heavy machinery to rip, chain, and crush native vegetation, especially on wilderness-quality lands. It is an easy and scientifically verified way to ease at least some of the deadly impacts of climate change, and we are hopeful that the new administration will listen.

—Kya Marienfeld

(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, Summer 2021 issue)