ST. GEORGE — A Nevada company is raising funds for a pellet mill to process pinyon and juniper trees cleared by the Bureau of Land Management to help restore wildlife habitat in both Nevada and Utah’s Enterprise and Beaver regions of Utah, which fall within the Great Basin.
The trees would otherwise be wasted, and producing products from the felled trees will let Caliente Firewood contract to clear the trees at a lower price, the company’s owner, Gary Barnett, said, allowing the BLM to clear more acres on its limited budget.
Caliente Firewood hopes to sell 4,000 T-shirts or raise $40,000 through GoFundMe.com, Barnett said in a statement. The pellet mill is the last piece of a strategy that will allow the company to help restore sagebrush habitat.
Due to suppression of wildfires and other factors in the Great Basin, pinyon and juniper have expanded tenfold in the last 150 years, Barnett said. Tree coverage of the sagebrush steppe has gone from less than one-third to over two-thirds of the Great Basin, now totaling 17.6 million acres of pinyon juniper woodlands.
“My goal is to restore 10,000 acres or more of habitat for each location and bring in 50 to 100 much-needed jobs to each of these locations,” Barnett said. Barnett has plans for facilities in several Nevada counties, as well as in Beaver and Enterprise in Utah.
The Great Basin Desert, outlined in black on the map insert, is defined by plant and animal communities, according to the National Park Service’s Web page, which provides the following description:
The climate is affected by the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains. It is a temperate desert with hot, dry summers and snowy winters. The valleys are dominated by sagebrush and shadescale. The biologic communities on the mountain ranges differ with elevation, and the individual ranges act as islands isolated by seas of desert vegetation. Because the Great Basin exhibits such drastic elevation changes from its valleys to its peaks, the region supports an impressive diversity of species, from those adapted to the desert to those adapted to forest and alpine environments.
The loss of sagebrush habitat from pinyon and juniper has adversely affected population size of the 350-plus species that live on the sagebrush steppe. Pinyon-juniper expansion is believed to be a major factor resulting in the decline of sage-grouse, which are currently under consideration for an endangered species listing.
Sage grouse, mule deer, pygmy rabbits and other species are declining in numbers due to the loss of habitat, but all respond favorably to removal of pinyon and juniper, Barnett said.
Pinyon-juniper woodlands are classified in three phases, Barnett said.
In the first phase, some trees are present but sagebrush and other plants dominate the landscape, and this is the historical norm.
In the second phase, trees cover more of the landscape, Barnett said, but sagebrush and other shrubs are still present.
In the third phase, pinyon and juniper trees dominate the landscape, leaving little or no underbrush and increasing both soil erosion and the risk of catastrophic fires, Barnett said. When land in the third phase burns, it is unlikely to return to a sagebrush community, and most burned areas are taken over by invasive weeds such as cheat grass. With 100,000 acres per year turning into phase 3 in the Great Basin, the loss of habitat for the 350-plus species of the sagebrush steppe is alarming.
Currently, pinyon and juniper expansion is treated in different ways and costs from $10 to $100 per acre, which limits the acreage that can be treated each year and leaves trees on the ground to rot. Utilization of pinyon-juniper by companies such as Barnett’s can reduce the cost of these treatments and increase the amount of land that can be treated and restored by the BLM each year.
Caliente Firewood currently produces firewood, fence posts and biochar – a soil amendment that also holds carbon. Adding pellets to the company’s production will allow more trees to be utilized.
The company plans to donate a portion of all profits to a wildlife charity to reseed the cut areas, to further enhance the habitat, he said.
Ed. note: St. George News has not verified information provided in connection with fundraising accounts mentioned in this article. Those considering contributions are advised to consult with their own professionals for tax advice and investment risks.
St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic
- Nevada Sagebrush Ecosystem Program website
- Nevada Pinyon-Juniper Partnership website
- Buy a T-shirt here
- GoFundMe page
- Secretary Jewell issues strategy to protect, restore sagebrush lands for 2015 fire season
- Local, state officials respond to release of sage-grouse land use plans
- Governor signs executive order to protect greater sage grouse
Submitted by Gary Barnett, Caliente Firewood
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