The state director of the Bureau of Land Management has ordered a temporary halt to the scheduled chaining this summer of 1,400 acres of Utah juniper and pinion trees pending an environmental reassessment of the controversial practice.
James Parker ordered the halt in the wake of public protests by scores of environmentalists, schoolchildren and concerned citizens over the chaining of 380 acres of pinion and juniper trees on Amasa's Back near Moab."I think (the BLM action to review chainings) is wonderful. Perhaps we did have a positive impact after all," said Ken Sleight, a local outfitter and environmentalist who led the unsuccessful attempt to block the Amasa's Back chaining.
Chaining is a practice in which two bulldozers drag heavy chains between them, uprooting pinion and juniper trees. The land is then reseeded with grasses and shrubs more suitable to livestock grazing and wildlife habitat.
Typically, the BLM chains between 200 and 1,000 acres of pinion and juniper trees per year in areas where the trees have encroached upon traditional grassland areas. Unlike the chainings of the past, recent chainings are usually on a small scale, covering only a few hundred acres.
Parker's order specifically delays an 1,100-acre chaining in Juab County and a 400-acre chaining in Tooele County near the town of St. Johns.
It was the proposed chaining of 20,000 to 40,000 trees in Juab County that prompted a 2,500-signature petition by schoolchildren asking that President Bush issue a moratorium on chaining. In a letter to Gov. Norm Bangerter, the petitioners said, "We are asking you to join us in petitioning the president to call for a moratorium on this practice long enough to review it."
Parker's order calls for an environmental review of the projects but does not call for a moratorium on chaining.
"Given the amount of feedback we've had since the Amasa's Back chaining and the volume of comment both for and against vegetative treatments, we are delaying projects until each proposal is reviewed," said BLM spokesman Don Banks.
"We still believe that chaining is a proven and valuable practice beneficial to livestock, wildlife and watershed. But we recognize it has become a highly charged issue, and until we have a chance to let the public comment sink in, we are delaying those projects on the front burners."
While the BLM is developing "vegetative treatment" management plans for all of its lands, Utah was the only state with enough public interest to warrant a public hearing.
Banks said the public, as always, will be notified of all future chaining projects, which will be approved on a case-by-case basis in accordance with established BLM planning and environmental assessment processes.