[Senate Hearing 110-273]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office]
S. Hrg. 110-273
GREAT BASIN THREATS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON PUBLIC LANDS AND FORESTS
ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES
UNITED STATES SENATE
ONE HUNDRED TENTH CONGRESS
CONSIDER THE MAJOR ENVIRONMENTAL THREATS TO THE
GREAT BASIN IN THE 21ST CENTURY
LAS VEGAS, NV, OCTOBER 11, 2007
Printed for the use of the
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES
U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
40-582 PDF WASHINGTON DC: 2008
For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing
Office Internet: bookstore.gpo.gov Phone: toll free (866)512-1800
DC area (202)512-1800 Fax: (202) 512-2250 Mail Stop SSOP,
Washington, DC 20402-0001
JEFF BINGAMAN, New Mexico, Chairman
DANIEL K. AKAKA, Hawaii PETE V. DOMENICI, New Mexico
BYRON L. DORGAN, North Dakota LARRY E. CRAIG, Idaho
RON WYDEN, Oregon LISA MURKOWSKI, Alaska
TIM JOHNSON, South Dakota RICHARD BURR, North Carolina
MARY L. LANDRIEU, Louisiana JIM DeMINT, South Carolina
MARIA CANTWELL, Washington BOB CORKER, Tennessee
KEN SALAZAR, Colorado JOHN BARRASSO, Wyoming
ROBERT MENENDEZ, New Jersey JEFF SESSIONS, Alabama
BLANCHE L. LINCOLN, Arkansas GORDON H. SMITH, Oregon
BERNARD SANDERS, Vermont JIM BUNNING, Kentucky
JON TESTER, Montana MEL MARTINEZ, Florida
Robert M. Simon, Staff Director
Sam E. Fowler, Chief Counsel
Frank Macchiarola, Republican Staff Director
Judith K. Pensabene, Republican Chief Counsel
Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests
RON WYDEN, Oregon, Chairman
DANIEL K. AKAKA, Hawaii LARRY E. CRAIG, Idaho
TIM JOHNSON, South Dakota LISA MURKOWSKI, Alaska
MARY L. LANDRIEU, Louisiana RICHARD BURR, North Carolina
MARIA CANTWELL, Washington JIM DeMINT, South Carolina
KEN SALAZAR, Colorado JOHN BARRASSO, Wyoming
ROBERT MENENDEZ, New Jersey JEFF SESSIONS, Alabama
BLANCHE L. LINCOLN, Arkansas GORDON H. SMITH, Oregon
BERNARD SANDERS, Vermont JIM BUNNING, Kentucky
Jeff Bingaman and Pete V. Domenici are Ex Officio Members of the
C O N T E N T S
Belnap, Jayne, Research Ecologist, Geological Survey, Department
of the Interior................................................ 5
Mulroy, Patricia, General Manager, Southern Nevada Water
Authority, Las Vegas, NV....................................... 29
Nichols, Dan, Rancher and County Commissioner, Harney County, OR. 24
Pellant, Mike, Great Basin Restoration Initiative Coordinator,
Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior.......... 12
Reid, Hon. Harry, U.S. Senator From Nevada....................... 2
Spratling, Boyd, President, Nevada Cattlemen's Association, Elko,
Wyden, Hon. Ron, U.S. Senator From Oregon........................ 1
Responses to additional questions................................ 45
GREAT BASIN THREATS
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2007
Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests,
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources,
Las Vegas, NV.
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 10 a.m., at
Thomas & Mack Moot Court, William S. Boyd School of Law,
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Hon. Ron Wyden presiding.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. RON WYDEN, U.S. SENATOR FROM OREGON
Senator Wyden. The Subcommittee on Public Lands and
Forests, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
will come to order. This has been a busy year for our
We have spent considerable time, with strong support of the
Senate majority leader, working to reauthorize Securing Rural
Schools and the Community Self Determination Act, which is a
lifeline for rural communities.
It would also include, as a result of the work of the
Senate majority leader, major expansion of the health program,
the payment in lieu of the taxes program, which we all know to
be so important to westerners.
We've also spent a considerable amount of time working to
protect wilderness in our special places, and when that
legislation is enacted, it will be the biggest expansion of
wilderness protection in many years. We've also spent a
considerable amount of effort looking at how to reduce fire
risks, particularly by thinning out hundreds of thousands of
acres of choked, overstocked timber stands.
Today, at the request of the Senate majority leader, we are
here to consider the major environmental threats to the Great
Basin in the 21st Century.
These include invasive species, wildfire, drought and
The Great Basin is composed of most of Nevada and portions
of Oregon, California, Utah and Idaho.
The Great Basin is a place where the combination of
invasive species, wildfire, drought and global warming has
created a vortex of ecological deterioration.
It's my view that our generation has a choice. Sit around
and tolerate ecological collapse of a great ecosystem, or roll
up our sleeves and go to work to protect the Basin's special
way of life. To get started in that effort, we're fortunate to
have the Senate majority leader here to lead us in that cause.
The Senate majority leader has been a good friend of mine
for more than a quarter of a century, and he possesses a trait
that we westerners value very much. When he says something you
can count on it. He has made it clear to me that working to
protect the Great Basin is a special priority of his, and I am
glad to join him in this effort.
Now, before we call up our Senate majority leader I also
want to say a big thanks to a number of those who have helped
make this possible.
Today we have David Ashly, the president of the university,
with us; and we welcome you, Mr. Ashly.
We have Dean John White of the law school, and I will tell
you, Dean, I am a lawyer really in name only. Senator Reid, of
course, is a very distinguished lawyer, but I've noted that
your school is already one of the top schools in the country,
and we commend you for it.
Mrs. Mack, I think you're going to get a more formal thank
you from the Senate majority leader, but we are very grateful
to you for your contribution to the State and the community,
and I gather we're having somewhat of a christening out here
today with this morning's Senate appeal hearing.
Our first panel of witnesses will include Mike Pellant, the
coordinator for the Bureau of Land Management, Great Basin
Restoration Initiative and Doctor Jayne Belnap, research
ecologist with the US Geological Survey.
On the second panel we will have the Honorable Dan Nichols,
County Commissioner for Harney County in Oregon.
We're thrilled to have Dan here. He always comes to my town
meetings when I have them around the State, and he is a great
advocate for rural communities.
Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada
Water Authority will be with us on the second panel, and Doctor
Boyd Spratling, President of the Nevada Cattlemen's
So let us go forward. We're going to have a busy day.
Our first witness will be the distinguished Senate majority
leader, who has been involved in a host of major environmental
I particularly appreciate his leadership and the effort to
address global climate change, and it's my hope that the Senate
majority leader, after making a statement, will come and join
the panel for whatever time his schedule allows. Majority
STATEMENT OF HON. HARRY REID, U.S. SENATOR
Senator Reid. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.
I must underscore the statement about our relationship.
We have served together in the House; of course, we now
serve together in the Senate. Not only are you a member of this
prestigious committee, but you're a member of the finance
committee, and Ron is a man who doesn't take credit for the
things that he does, so I'll give him a little credit for a
number of things.
Ron is a real thinker. He came to the Congress having been
an attorney for the great campus. One of the things he's done
so well during his many years in Congress is make sure that
people in their golden years are treated as if they were gold.
Also, he's one of the people that understand that
legislation is a compromise, it takes a long time to get things
done, and one of the hallmarks of Ron Wyden is that he has done
a lot of things, and one of the things that he's now way out in
front of everyone--I shouldn't say everyone that's here, but at
least members sitting on the finance committee, where it will
happen. He is on health care, he has a bipartisan piece of
legislation that's receiving rave reviews around the country,
and so, Ron, it's a pleasure to have you here. This committee
is so important to our country.
This subcommittee is so important to the State of Nevada,
we have a situation where we have 87 percent of the land is
owned by the Federal Government. Forty percent of our land is
restricted military air space, so the Federal Government is
involved in virtually everything that we do, and so your
holding this hearing today is extremely important.
I do want to also acknowledge Joyce Mack.
The Mack family, together with the Thomas family, have
done--I don't know anyone that's comparable to having helped
education as much as they.
In addition to their big hearts and giving parts of their
personal fortune to education, they've been involved in many
other things, and I think their story is a story of what
America is all about. Both the Thomas and Mack families
basically had nothing, and with the American dream they
obtained something, but have given much of it away.
Joyce is here. She's a dear friend. I so miss her wonderful
husband and his political advice, which he loved to give, and
his favorite person in politics, at least from my perspective,
was Scoop Jackson.
He was--Scoop Jackson, he knew Nevada as well as he knew
every State except for the State of Washington where he came
from, and one reason is because of the relationship that he had
with Sherry Mack.
So thank you very much, Joyce, for being here.
The official title of this hearing is to consider the major
environmental threats to the Great Basin and in the century
we're now in, the 21st century.
The witnesses have been selected and requested to focus
mainly on the dangerous impact of global warming, which is, as
the chairman mentioned, increasing wildlife and species
endangerment, drought, heat waves, and making water supplies
scarce, and how these adverse impacts are changing life, and
how adapting to them makes everything increasingly costly.
We've not asked the witness to discuss solutions to the global
warming. That will come at a later time in your committee.
We expect and hope that you will in your role at this
hearing, provide testimony that will serve as a platform to
show that renewable energy is a better path than the more
conventional means that we've been using for so long.
It's certainly clear that wildfire, invasive species,
Cheatgrass and drought are wreaking havoc on the Great Basin.
Temperatures in the west have been steadily rising for the past
fifty years, but very much so in the past decade.
A report from the world's best climatologists shows that
summer temperatures in the west could increase by up to nine
degrees by mid-century. Hotter temperatures will make the
southwestern States even warmer and more arid, even when
conditions are compared to those we're experiencing today. The
warming will make droughts, I'm sorry to say, longer and more
severe. Invasive plants like Cheatgrass thrive in the hotter
and drier conditions that will come with climate change.
We're all dealing with them here. You're going to be
hearing from a cowboy, a cattleman, a rancher this afternoon,
this morning, I should say, and you will find that they're
really concerned about what's happening. The combination of
Cheatgrass and other invasive species, and what they're doing
with respect to fire, is drastically changing the Basin's
ecosystems. Wildfires affect the livelihood of ranchers and the
safety of many, many Nevadans.
Since 1999, wildfires have burned more than a million acres
of land habitat each year. In just this past summer we shared a
devastating fire in the State of Oregon. It took several weeks
to burn out. To stop global warming we have to attack the
primary cause: Greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil
fuels. We have a moral obligation to current and future
generations to do that. Burning dirty, polluting coal, using
outdated technology is a way to make wildfires more intense and
continue drying out the Southwest. I don't know how anybody
could choose a path of more coal in Nevada when we're so close
to a renewable energy revolution.
Nevada and other western States have tens of thousands of
megawatts of geothermal, solar, wind, biomass potential reaches
all over America, but especially here in Nevada, so we need to
redevelop these new, clean resources, and we need to do it
quickly. It's very important.
I reviewed, Mr. Chairman, statements by the witnesses who
will come here today, and they, really, I think, lay this out
so well. I do want to single out one of the witnesses, and
that's Patricia Mulroy.
As I mentioned to you in the holding room that when history
is written about Nevada, a good part of the history of modern
times, it will be talking about Patricia Mulroy. We've had some
real challenges here in Las Vegas with our growth and the
scarcity of water and the allocation that Nevada was given out
of the Colorado River.
Most of it was given to other States, but what she's done
with conservation is so staggeringly important to what we may
have been able to accomplish here. Not only has she done what
she could with the water out of the Colorado, but--and in that
has done remarkable things with water bank, people used to just
talk about that she's actually done that, especially with the
State of Arizona, but not only that, she's searching for other
sources of water. Senator Ensign and I have worked closely with
her to make sure we're going to be able to do everything
legislatively that's necessary to accomplish that.
So I'm glad this hearing will explore and document the
threats to the Great Basin which is critical to the people who
live with these threats here because they're transforming the
world around us and are very costly in many dangerous ways, so
I look forward to being here while you listen to these
I say to everyone here, we have staff here from Washington,
and Senator Wyden's staff--the purpose of these field hearings
is to learn what's going on around the rest of the country and
to take that information back to the subcommittee, and, of
course, to the full committee, and ultimately Congress to see
what can be done about the issues that are certainly brought up
here in Las Vegas.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Senator Wyden. Mr. Majority Leader, I so appreciate your
delivering this wake-up call, because by throwing the weight of
your office behind this cause, and this involves, I think you
folks know, this involves five States, it's not just Nevada,
but it's Oregon, California, Utah and Idaho and I think we have
had a chance now to mobilize at a critical time an effort to
protect this resource.
So I so appreciate what you have done by bringing us here,
by asking us to come to this field hearing, and I look forward
to working with you as you lead the effort to protect the
I know you've got a tight schedule, with many demands on
you, but I hope that you will be able to sit with the panel and
ask whatever questions you wish of your constituents. Just now
I not only appreciate your leadership, but our friendship over
so many years.
Senator Reid. Mr. Chairman, I appreciate your invitation to
sit up here with you, but this is your subcommittee. I will sit
here during the hearing and listen, and I would feel
uncomfortable asking questions.
Senator Wyden. If it's not breaking any kind of Senate
procedure, we have had Senators sit with us, and whatever is
Senator Reid. Mr. Chairman, I have four children that I
brag about all of the time, four boys now. My youngest boy was
an athlete, and he--as you know, I've told you many times,
played on three national championship soccer teams at the
University of Virginia. So his mother and I bought him a World
Cup shirt. He wouldn't wear it because he wasn't part of the
He went to the World Cup and he wouldn't wear that shirt
because he wasn't playing a World Cup team.
So since I'm not part of this committee, I'm going to sit
back here and partake of the witnesses.
Thank you very much.
Senator Wyden. I thank you.
Let us call our first panel, then, Mike Pellant and Doctor
Welcome to both of you, we'll make your prepared statements
a part of the hearing record and I think if you can take 5
minutes or thereabouts to summarize your principal views and
that would save some time for questions, and welcome. Thank you
for your leadership.
STATEMENT OF JAYNE BELNAP, RESEARCH ECOLOGIST, GEOLOGICAL
SURVEY, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
Ms. Belnap. Good morning, Chairman Wyden.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear here today to
discuss how climate change models can help us better understand
the interaction between climate change and environmental
threats facing the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau Region.
I'm addressing both regions in my remarks as they share
ecosystems, resources and future concerns including the
Colorado River. Climate models are based on well-established
physical principals to which are added approximations and
physical processes at the appropriate scale for the models
being constructed. Many factors go into these models which can
be seen on the screen, which is why they are so complicated.
The most recent generation of global circulation models
couple data from the atmosphere, oceans and land. The
atmospheric data describes the transfer of heat, radiation and
water vapor in the process of cloud development and
precipitation. Oceanic factors include sea surface
temperatures, sea ice and ocean currents.
Land factors include vegetative cover, soil type and
moisture, water storage and weather precipitation in forms of
snow or rain. Models continue to evolve as research identifies
the new factors that influence climate, such as methane,
nitrous oxide, dust, soot, terrestrial carbon sources and
vegetation dynamics. There are three fundamental ways to change
the radiation balance of the earth. One is to change the
incoming solar radiation; second is to change how much is
reflected by the cloud's atmospheric particles, and vegetation.
The third is to influence how much radiation escapes into
space by altering greenhouse gas concentration. Humans can
influence the latter too. So what do the climate models predict
in this region, and what is their uncertainty?
The 21 global models in this specific region predict
temperatures will increase by up to 6 degrees Centigrade or 11
degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. There's much less
certainty in predicting future precipitation because there are
so many factors that influence this variable.
The 21 models also predict a 5 to 10 percent increase in
winter and up to 15 percent decline in summer precipitation.
However, this is very important: Even if there's no change in
precipitation the rising temperatures will mean greater
evaporation rates, which will reduce soil moisture and water
Model uncertainties arise from several factors, including
clouds, atmospheric concentration of greenhouses gasses and the
reflection of the earth's surface due to the cover of sea ice
We simply don't know what the concentrations of greenhouse
gasses will be in the future.
Sea ice is very reflective and so the extent of it is
covered is very important to climate models. However, the melt
rates are still very unpredictable. Activities that reduce the
vegetative cover for disturbed soil surface such as grazing,
vehicles and fires are increasing in this region.
They also increase the earth's reflection and need to be
included in these models. This creates higher, drier air rising
off the earth surface that can reduce local and regional cloud
formations and precipitation, which then results in less
vegetation, which then results in less rain. Higher
temperatures will reduce soil moisture, which also reduces
vegetative cover. Fire frequency and severity in size will
likely increase as soils dry and make the vegetation more
susceptible to insect infestation and death.
All of these changes will greatly increase reflection and
thus decrease local precipitation. Downscaling from global to
regional and local scale models will need to take into account
these land use activities and their effects on climate. Drying
soils and decreasing precipitation will also increase soil
erosion, which will also affect the climate. As soils dry and
vegetative cover is reduced and soil surface disturbance from
fires increase, we can expect much greater rates of soil
erosion than with wind and water loss.
The replacement of desert soils is a very slow process; the
formation takes five thousand to ten thousand years. Eroded
sites will experience reduced fertility, reducing the biomass
and nutritive quality of the plants.
In addition, soil erosion decreases the water holding
capacity of soil moisture and soil moisture is an important
factor and in climate models. Winter erosion will be especially
problematic in this region. Most desert soils are stable until
disturbed, surprisingly. Burned areas can also be a large
source of dust. Dust has more substantial and far-reaching
impacts than most of us can imagine, including automobile
accidents, severe health problems and large economic losses.
Perhaps most importantly for this group dust is deposited
on the snowpack of the nearby mountains, causing the snow to
melt up to thirty days earlier or more than usual, reducing the
amount of late season water delivery.
Lake cores show that the current deposition rates are three
to six times higher than before 1850, and as soils dry and are
increasingly disturbed, dust deposition and the snow melts
rates will increase. Dust from fire increases particulates in
the atmosphere, and this will, again, influence future climate.
However, the degree of this influence has yet to be quantified.
Last, the combination of increased temperatures and albedo
and earlier snow melt will decrease water supplies, especially
in the summer. USGS models predict a ten to forty percent
decline in stream flow for this region.
Many small springs and streams will likely dry up,
affecting the plants, wildlife, livestock and humans that
depend on them. Earlier impacts to snow melt will likely impact
ecosystems such as the Colorado River. Reduced surface water
will reduce evaporation rates, which can influence, again,
regional cloud formation and precipitation.
So what can science do to improve our understanding of the
challenges that the climate change will present?
First, we really need to continue to improve our climate
models, use scientific research to identify and quantify new
and important parameters. We especially need to improve our
ability to downscale from global models to scales pertinent to
resource management decisions.
We need to identify, map and prioritize resources at risk.
For example, we need to know what soils are susceptible to
plant invasion and erosion; we need to know what areas are
susceptible to fire, which springs and streams are likely to
dry up, what species in the habitat are at special risk.
We need science to help managers understand how they can
alter the types, timing and intensity of land use to reduce
soil movement and plant invasion from fire, and we need long-
term research sites that are part of a extensive national
scale, local monitoring program to document and forecast
climate effects which will improve understanding of the
mechanisms behind the changes that are observed.
Thank you very much for your attention I'll be delighted to
[The prepared statement of Ms. Belnap follows:]
Prepared Statement of Jayne Belnap, Research Ecologist, Geological
Survey, Department of the Interior
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the
opportunity to appear here today to discuss how climate change models
can help us better understand the interaction between climate change
and environmental threats in the Great Basin/Colorado Plateau region.
Climate change is perhaps the most complex and multi-faceted challenge
facing public land managers. Climate change affects biota, water,
ecosystems, cultures, and economies. Although climate change is a
natural, continuous Earth process, changes to the Earth's climate are
related to human activities as well. Whether the causes are natural or
from human influences, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) climate change
focus is on understanding its impacts and the potential adaptive
strategies for managing natural resources and ecosystems in the face of
climate change modeling
The most recent generation of global climate models are called
Atmospheric-Ocean Global Circulation Models (AOGCM) because the
predictions from these models are based on data from the atmosphere,
oceans, and land masses. Atmospheric data in the models describe
transfers of heat, radiation, and water vapor, and the processes of
cloud development and precipitation. Oceanic factors include sea
surface temperatures, sea ice, and ocean currents. Land factors include
vegetative cover, soil types, water storage and the type of water
delivery (i.e., rain versus snow). As the name implies, AOGCM combines
these factors to create global climate models.
There are many issues that create uncertainty in these models. The
most problematic concern how clouds, sea ice cover, and atmospheric
greenhouse gas concentrations affect climate. Clouds affect climate in
many ways, including increasing or decreasing radiation, creating
precipitation, and affecting small-scale circulation patterns. To
illustrate the problem, clouds cover approximately 60 percent of the
Earth's surface and are responsible for up to two thirds of Earth's
albedo (reflectance of light from the surface--which is about 30
percent). A decrease in albedo by only 1 percent can increase
temperatures by about 1C. Secondly, the future extent of sea ice and
snow fields, which have a large influence on the outcome of the models,
is another unknown. As the concentrations of greenhouse gases rise and
warm the Earth, snow and ice begin to melt. As the underlying ground or
water is darker than the snow and ice, they absorb more heat from the
Sun, causing more melting, which results in additional warming. This
creates a feedback loop known as the `ice-albedo feedback'. Lastly, the
level of emissions (carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases) that can
be expected in the future is unknown. Detecting, understanding and
accurately quantifying such feedbacks and emissions is extremely
difficult, but the valuation of these factors can greatly alter climate
There are issues associated with downscaling of the AOGCM
projections as well. Whereas we are fairly confident in global-scale
drivers of climate, the effect of local factors are much less certain.
There are two main approaches to downscaling. The first approach
constructs an empirical relationship between a local factor (e.g.,
stream flow) and large scale atmospheric circulation model prediction
of that factor. The second approach, dynamical downscaling, basically
uses a weather prediction model to downscale AOGCM output to much
higher resolutions. Both methods have their advantages and
disadvantages. Empirical downscaling requires a long record of high
quality data in order to build the required empirical relationships.
For many parts of the United States, such records are lacking. For
example, there are very few long-term climate station records in the
Great Basin/Colorado Plateau region that can be used to create or
verify downscaled models. In addition, the paucity of climate stations
means that climate information for a specific location can only be
modeled (that is, data from a few stations are extrapolated over a
larger area that has similar elevation, topography, etc.). Thus, data
for the model is often coming from another model, increasing the risk
The primary disadvantage of dynamical downscaling is the high
computational cost. Both methods will give erroneous climate
projections if the large-scale circulation provided by the AOGCMs is
incorrect, as they provide the boundary conditions for the heat, water
vapor, and pressure fields. As physical equations are then used to
calculate what these fields are in higher resolution, any error in the
large scale fields is propagated throughout the downscaled models.
use of models in understanding future conditions
It is not valid simply to extrapolate the observed past changes in
climate change forward into the future. However, the demonstrated
success of current climate models in simulating the global pattern of
observed 20th century changes means that those models are credible,
though far from perfect, tools for looking into the future. As
discussed in more detail below, given the most realistic assumptions
about future atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and other
drivers of climate change, these models project a long-term drying
trend in the Southwest, including the Great Basin. The drying trend in
the Southwest implies an increasing probability of occurrence of
Southwestern drought. These projections are, at best, a general outline
of climate change for the real future. I note, however, that there is
much room for improvement. For example:
Climate models typically represent conditions over very
large areas. Such an approach has been adequate to assess
global warming. However, climate varies geographically on a
much finer scale, especially in mountainous regions. Therefore,
to assess practical impacts on water and to design, plan, and
implement needed adaptations, resource managers and
policymakers need information on a much finer spatial scale,
more like that of a county. To deliver this, much-higher-
resolution climate models are needed.
The Nation has no comprehensive network for the monitoring
of climate change. The available measurements, assembled from
stations established for other purposes, such as stream gauges,
have proven critical for the progress that has been made in
detecting global change. However, keeping higher-resolution
models accurate and tracking ongoing changes related to climate
change impacts will require higher-resolution measurements.
Current climate models do not capture the effects of
development, land use, and land-cover change on climate. This
has not been identified as a crucial impediment for global
analyses, but it likely matters at the finer spatial scale of
most resource management decision-making.
A change in climate causes a change in water demand, e.g.,
for irrigation and for natural ecosystems. Our understanding of
this relation between climate and water demand needs
improvement if models are to be more effective in predicting
the effects of climate change on future water needs.
To make best use of available information in a changing
climate, resource managers will need to employ a wider variety
of science-based decision support tools than those that have
sufficed in the past. These new tools must recognize that
climate will change during the lifetime of an operational
project and that estimates of the changing climate are
uncertain. This will require a sea change in the field of
resource management. Such a change will not be accomplished
without a concerted effort by government, academia, and
modeling and research findings
The averaging of 21 climate models predicts that temperatures will
increase by up to 6C (11F) in the Great Basin/Colorado Plateau region
during the next century (Christensen et al., 2007). This is a large
increase, and thus, it is likely to have profound effects on water
resources and the living systems that depend on those resources.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide and nitrogen levels are also likely to
increase. There is much more uncertainty in predicting future
precipitation than temperature. Precipitation predictions vary widely,
depending on how the models are constructed. The Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change averaged model predicts 5-10 percent increase
in winter precipitation, 0-15 percent decline in summer precipitation,
and 0-5 percent decline in annual precipitation (Christensen et al.,
In addition, a review of these models shows that extreme events
(e.g., drought, wet years, floods, high winds) will increase. These
extreme events will cause significant challenges to the biological
components of the Earth system in terms of their ability to adapt or
mitigate to other areas as a result of abruptly-changing climate
(Christensen et al., 2007).
Land use activities (e.g., recreation, clearing for housing,
grazing, cropland, military activities) are also increasing rapidly in
this region and will further exacerbate the effects of climate change
on biological resources. These activities enhance the invasion of
exotic plants, reduce or remove vegetative cover, and destroy physical
and biological soil crusts, leaving soils unprotected, reducing forage
and habitat, and increasing the reflectance, or albedo, of the soil
surface (Foley et al., 2005; Notaro et al., 2006).
With climate change and land use invasive plants, especially exotic
annual grasses, will likely increase. Soil surface disturbance,
elevated carbon dioxide levels, the deposition of atmospheric nitrogen,
and increased fire will all contribute to a likely increase in exotic
annual grasses such as cheatgrass (D'Antonio and Vitousek, 1992; Brooks
et al., 2004). In an area such as the Great Basin/Colorado Plateau
region, where exotic annual grasses have been replacing native
perennial plant communities, this could have severe consequences,
resulting in years where such landscapes will have little or no forage
and habitat for wildlife and livestock, resulting in a severe loss of
biodiversity. During this time, soils will also be highly vulnerable to
erosion. In addition, annual grasses alter soil biota, decomposition
rates, and nutrient cycling rates, resulting in lower soil fertility.
Fire frequency and severity will also increase with the invasion of
annual plants and future extreme wet/dry conditions. Re-burning of
areas facilitates further annual plant invasion, which will lead to
increased fire frequency (Brooks et al., 2004). Because most desert
shrubs grow slowly and require extended periods without fire to re-
establish, more frequent fire is particularly destructive in shrub-
dominated desert systems such as those found in the Great Basin/
Colorado Plateau region. With the loss of perennial vegetation,
important microclimates are lost, including those that enhance the
germination and establishment of native plants and habitat for native
animals. Fire can also create hydrophobic soils that, when combined
with loss of vegetation cover, allow for increase soil erosion, and can
deplete the nutrient and carbon stocks in soils. Biota living at, or
just beneath, the soil surface are often killed, slowing decomposition
cycles and reducing soil nutrient availability.
As temperatures rise, soil moisture will decrease. One study has
shown that, by 2050, even if there is no decrease in precipitation,
increasing temperatures alone will result in average soil moisture
conditions being lower than those experienced during any of the mega-
droughts of this century (Dust Bowl years of the 1930s; drought years
1953-1956 and 1999-2004; Andreadis and Lettenmaier, 2006). This will
result in reduced plant cover and biomass, and thus, less forage and
habitat for livestock and wildlife. Insect outbreaks are also often
associated with lower soil moisture, as the resistance of vegetation to
infestation is reduced as a result of this stress. The combination of
dry soils and insect infestation have been known to kill thousands of
square miles of vegetation (e.g., the 2002-2003 Ips beetle infection/
infestation of Pinyon Pine in the Southwest United States), leaving the
area highly susceptible to fire and subsequent invasion by weeds
(Breshears et al., 2005).
Observations during dry periods of above average temperature have
also shown that shallowly rooted plants, such as perennial grasses and
cactus, will be highly vulnerable to future dry and hot conditions
(Ehleringer et al. 1999; Breshears et al. 2005). Many animals at the
base of the food chain (e.g., mice, rabbits) depend on grass and cactus
for food and shelter; thus, a reduction in these species is expected to
reverberate upward, resulting in the loss of predators such as raptors,
mountain lions, and bears. Grass is also the main food for cattle and
elk. Soil lichens, which add stability, carbon, and nitrogen to soils,
also die with increased temperatures. Their loss will further
contribute to a reduction in soil stability and fertility (Belnap et
Research by USGS and colleagues shows that increased warming could
decrease runoff by up to 30 percent in many streams and rivers in the
Great Basin/Colorado Plateau region (Milly et al., 2005). This includes
water in the Colorado River, which currently supplies the needs of 25
million people in seven U.S. states, two Mexican states, and 34 Native
American tribes (Pulwarty et al. 2005). As population grows, the demand
for water will increase at the same time that water availability is
decreasing due to climatic conditions (and soil erosion, see below).
Small springs and streams may dry up earlier in the season, or
completely, placing plants, animals, and humans that depend on surface
water at risk.
Research by USGS and others shows that desert soils are mostly
stable until disturbed (Marticorena et al., 1997; Belnap, 2003).
However, the interaction of lower soil moisture, fire, exotic plant
invasions, and surface-disturbing activities will reduce the cover of
natural soil stabilizers (plants, physical and biological soil crusts,
rocks) and result in greater soil erosion. Restabilization of these
soils often depends on heavy precipitation events; thus soils will
continue to erode during continued drought. As erosion differentially
removes the fine particles in soils to which nutrients are attached and
which increase water-holding capacity of the soil, the remaining soils
are less fertile and dry more quickly. This will result in less plant
biomass and thus less forage and habitat for wildlife and livestock. In
addition, reduced soil fertility will likely result in a reduction in
the nutritive quality of the plant tissue (Marschner, 1995). Thus,
livestock and wildlife will need to eat more to meet their nutritional
Soils eroded by water increase the sediment load in streams and,
ultimately, large rivers. These sediments are often heavily laden with
salts and heavy metals, contributing to water-quality problems
downstream. Soil deposition into small springs and streams can be
especially problematic, as the amount of water present is so low the
resource can be completely lost.
One largely overlooked issue regarding soil erosion by wind is that
it can produce dust storms that can have profound and lasting effects.
Dust obscures visibility on highways and thus endangers travelers. If
inhaled, the fine particles found in dust can cause asthma and other
respiratory disease. Dust can carry Valley Fever, which can be fatal
(Kirkland and Fierer, 1996). Dust storms can cause large economic
losses through lost work time and ruined machinery. Blowing sediment
can bury plants and eliminate habitat and forage. Dust also affects
water storage and delivery. When dark-colored dust is deposited on the
snowpack of downwind mountains and absorbs solar radiation, the
underlying snowpack melts 30 days or more earlier than normal (Painter
et al., 2006). Earlier melting reduces water storage in the snowpack,
thereby reducing the amount of water that is available in streams and
rivers during late summer. A faster melting rate may also increase
spring flooding, reducing the opportunity to store water in those
downstream reservoirs (Parker, 2000).
The loss of vegetation turns the Earth's surface from a dark color
to a light color. Thus, the energy from the sunlight hitting a
lightened surface is reflected upwards, rather than being absorbed by
dark vegetative surface. In addition, the surface is smoothed and
moisture evaporated from plants is lacking. The resultant rising hot
and dry air reduces cloud formation, thus reducing subsequent
precipitation. The result can be dramatic. Areas with reduced
vegetative cover receive less precipitation than adjacent land covered
by vegetation (Charney et al., 1975). Therefore, as land use, drought,
fire, or a combination of these factors results in reduced vegetative
cover, we can expect a reduction in precipitation as well (Foley et
al., 2005; Notaro et al., 2006). This often creates a feedback loop,
where drought reduces vegetative cover which increases albedo; this
increase, in turn, increases the severity of the drought, which further
reduces vegetative cover. This problem is especially severe where
native perennial plants have been replaced by annual grasses. Under
drought conditions, soils in these areas often completely lack
vegetative cover, and thus albedos are greatly increased.
Because plant recovery depends on soil moisture availability, lower
soil moisture will slow or prevent the recovery of plants and soils
from fire or surface-disturbing activities. The presence of invasive
annual grasses will often prevent the re-establishment of native
vegetation by facilitating frequent fires, killing the native plants
(Brooks et al., 2004). Almost all the research done on restoring
drylands has occurred during the past 30 years, which was a relatively
wet period. Thus, many of the restoration techniques that have been
developed may not work under anticipated future dry conditions.
Additional research will be needed to determine restoration techniques
under dry conditions.
Natural and human-caused disturbances have interacted over the past
several decades to change rangelands and ecosystems across as much as
one half of the Great Basin's one hundred million acres (McIver et al.,
2004). Protracted drought coupled with invasive species, altered fire
regimes, grazing, human settlement and recreation, and energy
exploration and development have yielded suites of vegetation that
often cannot support wildlife species. Increasing annual temperature
and decreasing precipitation regimes have exacerbated these ecological
changes, and climate change will continue to interact with plant and
animal dynamics on dry lands.
To better understand the interaction between climate change and
these environmental threats, and to provide the science needed by
resource managers and decision makers, the USGS is working to:
understand how climate change, and the interaction among
climate, land use, invasive plants, and fire, will impact
ecosystem processes, soil stability and fertility, plants,
wildlife, and humans at the local and regional scale.; document
past climate, land use, land cover, and disturbance regimes
(e.g., fire, extreme climate events); expand existing, long-
term monitoring of climate, air, and water quality (including
wind and water borne sediments), soils, ecosystem processes,
vegetation, animals, and land use/land cover; and simulate
future conditions with experimental research techniques and
document how the interactions between hydrology, climate,
land use, and vegetation affect soil movement; identify and map
soils vulnerable to invasion and erosion, and identify where
eroded soils are deposited; research ways to alter the type,
timing, and intensity of land use to reduce soil movement;
measure the effects of dust on water storage (in soils, ground
water, aquifers, and snowpack), delivery (timing, intensity,
and duration), and quality (salinity, heavy metals, sediment
load); document impacts of altered hydrologic cycles on
terrestrial and aquatic resources; expand current water-
quantity and water-quality monitoring at different scales
within the watershed, expand current aquatic and terrestrial
resource monitoring, and determine the sources and sinks for
research new restoration techniques and test old techniques
under future climate conditions in collaboration with our
colleagues at land management agencies such at the Bureau of
Land Management; research ways to restore ecosystem processes,
such as decomposition and nitrogen cycling; test old
restoration techniques under future conditions by using
model future climate change at the regional and local scale
and use the understanding of the interactions discussed above
to forecast future conditions in relation to changing climate,
land use, disturbance, and land cover; and
effectively communicate these findings to policy makers,
land managers, scientists, and the public.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for this opportunity to present testimony.
I would be pleased to respond any questions that you or other Members
of the Subcommittee may have on this topic.
Senator Wyden. Thank you, doctor, fine statement.
STATEMENT OF MIKE PELLANT, GREAT BASIN RESTORATION INITIATIVE
COORDINATOR, BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, DEPARTMENT OF THE
Mr. Pellant. Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to
address the committee on the Great Basin and through the
actions that were taken to mitigate the problems.
I'll put the first slide up. What I'd like to do in the
next 5 minutes is to briefly address some of the issues and
then move into some of the activities that BLM Great Basin
Restoration Initiative has taken to try to mitigate these
First, as you mentioned before, the Great Basin includes
parts of five States. BLM is the majority land manager in the
area managing a little over 50 percent of the total acreage
within the Great Basin. Wildfires are what we feel are the
symptom. The illness is really the invasive species and the
lack of land health. We've got three main issues; basically
Cheatgrass, I think we're all familiar with, BLM lands, some 25
million acres are pretty heavily infested with this annual
grass. We have Juniper encroachment occurring in many of our
communities, and then finally, kind of the new wave of invaders
from annual biannual perennial forbs that are invasive as well,
so all of these are areas of concern.
This graphic shows the wildfires in the Great Basin over
the last 17 years, so we've only looked at it for 17 years
because of the some of the difficulties going back further and
getting polygons of fires, but I think what really sticks out
here is the red areas are fires that occurred this past summer.
I might point out that two of them, one of them, the Murphy
Complex fire, this was over 650,000 acres; the Milford Flat
fire in Utah was nearly 350,000. Both of these were the largest
fires in those States, at least on public lands that have ever
So as you can see the wildfire issue is growing. A lot of
it can be associated with Cheatgrass areas. For example, the
north central area of Nevada between Elko and Winnemucca, the
Snake River Plane in Southern Idaho and some of the West Valley
areas in Utah. Some of the implications of climate change,
Juniper encroachment is expected to increase, which has a lot
Also, sagebrush is predicted to be driven more northward as
temperature and frost free periods increase in the southern
part of the Great Basin. Obviously, all of this has some very
significant, not only social and economic, but legal aspects,
the Endangered Species Act, for example.
Perhaps one of our biggest concerns is the effect of
increased carbon dioxide on Cheatgrass, not only does it
increase Cheatgrass, but it's also tending to change the makeup
of Cheatgrass, more lignens which is the less digestible
component, and we're concerned about less digest--or less
palpability; more fuel accumulations over time because of this
So what can we do about it? We've got a lot of issues
facing us. The strategy we've put together under the Great
Basin Restoration Initiative is let's maintain those areas that
are functioning now.
In this example make putting a green strip between a
Cheatgrass area and a sagebrush area to protect the integrity
of the sagebrush area, and then let's do restoration, but let's
do it strategically. The postage stamp approach doesn't work;
we really need to leave as big of a footprint as we can with
our restoration effort. The secretary's healthy lands
initiative is a good example of a proactive approach to
restoration in the Great Basin.
Another thing that we obviously need to do is become more
flexible in our management and our planning, adaptive
management is going to be even more important in the future,
and as well we need to incorporate climate change into our land
use plans and landscape level restoration. We're working
closely with the Ely Field office, the Eastern Nevada Landscape
Coalition, to do a landscape level plan on twelve million acres
of public land in this part of the Great Basin.
I will talk just briefly about Cheatgrass and using the
livestock to control it.
The upper photo shows a very descriptive approach using
livestock in the wild and urban interface, it works very well.
The big question is, can we employ livestock on the more
landscape level to meet these objectives?
The Idaho BLM State director has put together a task force
of scientists and managers to address this issue on the 650,000
acre Murphy Complex fire. His charge is to come up with some
recommendations relative to livestock use that may not only be
applicable to this fire, but to others as well within the Great
So we do want to take a very careful look at this and
utilize this tool where appropriate. Last, it's important not
to just get rid of the problem with the Cheatgrass and the
other invasive's, but try to get back to a native community,
there's kind of a misconception that the native can't compete
with Cheatgrass. I think we've demonstrated through some of our
native planting that they can. We've also got a native plant
development program that's producing a lot of results in terms
of seeding equipment.
So I'll just close simply with just reiterating what our
USGS colleagues have said, that we need better tools and
science; we need to incorporate better adaptation in our
management, be very strategic in restoration, and obviously
work with others in terms of collaboration and cooperation.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Pellant follows:]
Prepared Statement of Mike Pellant, Great Basin Restoration Initiative
Coordinator, Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the
opportunity to appear here today to discuss the major threats to
ecological and economic stability in the Great Basin and the Bureau of
Land Management's efforts through the Great Basin Restoration
Initiative to reduce these threats. My testimony will focus on the key
threats of invasive species, especially cheatgrass, and wildfires.
Climate change, including extended droughts, is expected to intensify
these issues and also negatively affect water management in the Great
Basin. I am the Coordinator for the Bureau of Land Management's Great
Basin Restoration Initiative and am responsible for coordinating
restoration-related activities across a five-State area for the Bureau
of Land Management.
The Great Basin is North America's largest desert, encompassing 135
million acres of land between the Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountains in
western North America. The manager of the largest land base in the
Great Basin (includes parts of Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, and
California) is the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land
Management (BLM) with oversight of 75 million acres of public land. The
Great Basin is characterized by aridity (over half the area receives
less than 12 inches annual precipitation) and a mix of shrubs
[sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) being the dominant], with an
understory of native grasses and forbs. Today, population growth,
wildfires, and invasive species are reducing the quality of native
rangelands at an accelerating rate (BLM 2000). Based on recent studies
by the U.S. Geological Survey and others, climate change could well be
expected to accelerate these changes and associated impacts.
The Great Basin is a land of wide, historical fluctuations in
climate both on a relatively short and long time frame. Extremes in
precipitation (wet years followed by multi-year extreme droughts) and
temperature challenge the management of livestock, wild horses and
burros, and wildlife on public lands. Given this variability in
climate, public land managers have flexibility in adjusting time and
amount of forage consumption and water use to sustain land health over
the long term. BLM managers evaluate these situations on a local basis
and have the regulatory authority to remove livestock or wild horses
during extended droughts when forage production or water sources are
inadequate to sustain native vegetation. The challenge is to separate
the natural climatic variation, especially extended droughts that have
always existed in the Great Basin, from climate change, in order to
modify and adapt management strategies to adjust to the changing
factors relating to climate change, including water, invasive species,
and wildfires in the great basin
The impact of climate change on Great Basin ecosystems may be
magnified compared to other ecosystems due to the aridity and lower
resiliency of these lands. Rangelands in the Great Basin always are
``on the edge'' given the uncertain timing and quantity of
precipitation, invasive species, altered fire regimes and increasing
human population pressures.
Water is the lifeblood of the Great Basin, given the low
precipitation and high evapotranspiration (the sum of evaporation and
plant transpiration from the earth's land surface to atmosphere) over
the majority of the desert. Water is needed to support an increasing
population (three of the ten fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the
United States--Boise, ID, Reno, NV, and Las Vegas, NV--are in or on the
edge of the Great Basin) while still meeting livestock, wildlife and
fish needs. The predicted changes of a decline in snowpack, earlier
peak spring streamflows, lower summer streamflows, and elevated stream
temperatures could have dramatic effects on habitats and resources
available to stream fishes (Isaak et al. 2007). Rainbow and brown trout
are predicted to be restricted to higher elevations (Jager et al.
1999). The geographic distribution of the Lahontan cutthroat is
projected to be reduced (Dunham et al. 1999) while the bull trout,
currently listed under the Endangered Species Act as ``threatened''
with extinction in the northern portion of the Great Basin, could
potentially face even greater risks as a result of climate change
(Rieman et al. 1997).
Change in the timing and amount of streamflows and spring and seep
discharges will affect a wide range of wildlife species, livestock, and
wild horses and burros. Water availability from these sources could dry
up earlier in the summer as a result of the early melt of the snowpack
causing increased competition for water and forage across the
landscape. Pipelines and troughs installed by BLM and livestock
permittees that provide water for livestock, wild horses, and wildlife
species over tens of millions of acres may have reduced capacity to
meet these needs.
Climate change and the associated impacts on the timing and
quantity of water available may exacerbate conflicts over water rights
between agricultural and urban interests. Proposals to transport water
from the Great Basin to Las Vegas are already a contentious issue and
could affect important aspects of human occupation and the resource
values in the Great Basin.
Native Plant Communities and Invasive Species
Invasive species are one of the greatest concerns of many managers
in the Great Basin. A consortium of organizations led by The Nature
Conservancy identified the Great Basin as the third most endangered
ecosystem in the United States due in large part to the dominance of
exotic species (Stein et al. 2000). Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is an
invasive exotic and the most ubiquitous invasive plant in the Great
Basin, occupying over 25 million acres of public lands managed by BLM
(BLM 2000). Besides being a serious competitor with native plants,
cheatgrass is a significant contributor to the increase in frequency
and size of wildfires in the Great Basin (Whisenant 1990). Cheatgrass
is expected to respond even more favorably than most native plants to
conditions with increased atmospheric CO2 (Smith et al.
2000). One recent study hypothesized that the increase in rangeland
wildfires is partially due to enhanced cheatgrass production stimulated
by increasing CO2 levels (Ziska et al. 2005). This study
also found that cheatgrass will become more coarse (e.g., lignin
content will increase) in the future which will reduce the time that it
is palatable to livestock and wildlife and thereby result in the
greater accumulation of fuel loads.
Managers are also concerned about the predicted increase in woody
vegetation as a result of climate change. An increase in woodland
encroachment into shrublands/grasslands, including a significant
expansion of juniper into sagebrush steppe, is expected. One model
predicts that much of the sagebrush in the southern Great Basin could
eventually be replaced by Mojave Desert shrubs to the south due to
projected higher temperatures and less frost in this portion of the
Great Basin (Neilson et al. 2005). The increase in juniper trees will
reduce palatable forage for livestock, habitat for wildlife, and
protective understory vegetation resulting in more soil erosion. Loss
of sagebrush will have significant impacts on wildlife species,
especially sage-grouse and other sagebrush obligate species, which are
dependent on this shrub-dominated ecosystem for food and shelter (Knick
Wildfires in the Great Basin are a subject of debate again as
approximately 2.7 million Federal and non-Federal acres in the Great
Basin burned during the 2007 fire season. Over the last 17 years,
nearly 16.2 million Federal and non-Federal acres have burned in the
Great Basin. Over 1.9 million acres of the total wildfire acres burned
two or more times during this same period due, in large part, to
increased fuel continuity as a result of the presence of annual
grasses, including cheatgrass. (Whisenant 1990) Wildfires spread
quickly across such landscapes. (Whisenant 1990) These figures do not
include wildfires prior to 1990 so the acreage of reburned areas in the
Great Basin is considerably larger. Fire suppression and rehabilitation
costs, and private property losses could increase if the plant
community changes projected for the Great Basin occur. Besides the
increased cost to the American public, wildfire behavior could be more
extreme, especially in areas where woody vegetation has increased fuel
loads. Risks to fire fighters and the public may continue to rise as
More severe and frequent wildfires will increase with the invasion
of exotic annual plants, such as cheatgrass, and with increased
frequency of extreme wet/dry conditions. Wet conditions result in the
increased spread of certain exotic annual grasses that then serve as a
continuous fuel for wildfires during subsequent dry periods. In turn,
these wildfires could further increase weed expansion, soil erosion,
and carbon loss. As the exotic annual grasses become more abundant, the
potential for fire increases, resulting in a positive feedback loop.
Increased wildfires in shrublands in the Great Basin and conversion to
cheatgrass dominance has now been documented to cause large scale
conversion of rangeland carbon sinks to carbon sources (Bradley et al.
2006). Disruptions to livestock operations on public lands could be
more common and habitat important to wildlife and wild horses and
burros may continue to decline. It is not known how climate change,
more generally, will impact the distribution of State or federal listed
noxious weed species that currently cause great ecological and economic
harm within the Great Basin.
efforts to address environmental threats and climate
change in the great basin
The Great Basin Restoration Initiative (GBRI) has assisted in
preparing some draft guidance to address potential effects of climate
change in several Great Basin Land Use Plans. The Ely, Nevada, Resource
Management Plan currently underway now includes a landscape approach to
restoration which is closely tied to GBRI. GBRI promotes a strategy of
maintaining intact native plant communities and strategically restoring
degraded areas. This strategy is being used in other planning documents
outside the Great Basin.
Climate change is addressed in the ``2006 Conservation Plan for
Greater Sage-Grouse in Idaho (http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/cms/hunt/
grouse/conserve--plan/)'' as it was ranked as the ninth of 19 threats
to sage-grouse and sage-grouse habitat in Idaho. Twenty conservation
measures (ranging from public education to planning restoration
projects) were developed to help local sage-grouse working groups
address climate change as they develop conservation strategies and
local projects. More emphasis on climate change will be incorporated
into land use and sage-grouse plans in the future with additional
agency and Departmental guidance and GBRI technical assistance.
Science and Monitoring
A key component of GBRI is the application of science and
monitoring to improve our ability to maintain healthy landscapes and
strategically restore degraded areas. Consideration of potential
effects of climate change are incorporated into these restoration
strategies since treatments applied today will have to be applicable in
the future to meet resource and social needs. For example, re-
establishment of sagebrush in areas burned by wildfires is a high
restoration priority. Sagebrush is very sensitive to the local climatic
conditions. Since sagebrush has an expected life span of 50-100 years,
it is imperative that appropriate seed sources be selected for current
seeding projects to maximize the potential that the sagebrush will
adapt to survive in an altered climate in the future.
One important strategy to increase the resiliency of Great Basin
ecosystems to future disturbances and climate change is to either
maintain or restore a diverse native plant community. Native plant
diversity acts as an insurance policy against future changes by
including a suite of species adapted to different environmental
conditions. Loss of a few species, although not desirable, will not
cause the system to crash. To improve the BLM's ability to restore
degraded rangelands now and into the future, GBRI has sponsored a
regional science and development project to increase the availability
of native plants for restoration. This program, ``Great Basin Native
Plant Selection and Increase Project'' was initiated in 1999 as part of
the BLM's Native Plant Materials Development Initiative and has 17
State, federal, academic and seed industry cooperators today (http://
www.fs.fed.us/rm/boise/research/shrub/greatbasin.shtml). Native seed
have been collected from nearly 1,500 sites in the Great Basin
providing the project cooperators with the ability to evaluate, select
and augment production of native plant seed. Having such collections
available for purchase in the future will provide managers with the
needed plant materials to re-establish diverse native plant communities
more resilient to the effects of a warmer climate with more erratic
Reducing the size and extent of wildfires is another component of
GBRI's science program. GBRI is involved in the assessment of livestock
grazing effects on fire spread and severity in the Murphy Complex fire.
This wildfire burned nearly 650,000 acres in Idaho and Nevada this past
summer. A team of fire and resource specialists is addressing this
issue with rancher input, remote sensing, monitoring data, and fire
models to determine how livestock grazing may be used in the future to
reduce catastrophic wildfires. This is one of several projects in the
Great Basin addressing livestock, fuels, and wildfires.
Monitoring the potential impacts of climate change on the flora and
fauna on the 75 million acres of public land in the Great Basin
requires a landscape approach. GBRI is participating with the USGS on
the development of a ``Great Basin Integrated Landscape Monitoring
Pilot Project'' that will assist managers to predict effects of climate
change on stressors such as invasive species and wildfires at a
landscape scale (http://fresc.usgs.gov/research/StudyDetail.asp?Study--
ID=566). GBRI has also implemented a regional pilot project under the
BLM Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring Initiative project in the
heart of the Great Basin in the Owhyee Uplands (http://web.id.blm.gov/
owyheeuplands/). This project has been designed in part to provide
baseline data at the landscape level to monitor plant community changes
over time. This will improve the BLM's ability to detect plant
community changes over time and to better distinguish climate change
influences from other forms of disturbance. GBRI has partnered with The
Nature Conservancy to co-fund a landscape ecologist to assist in this
BLM/GBRI is represented on the Executive Committee for the
development of the Intermountain Regional Ecological Observatory
Network (IRON), the Great Basin regional application to the National
Science Foundation's National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON)
(http://www.neon-iron.org/). NEON seeks to establish a continent-wide
distribution of environmental monitoring infrastructure, including eddy
flux towers, sensors for air, soil, and surface water temperatures,
windspeed and direction, precipitation, and barometric pressure,
photosynthetically active radiation, plant transpiration, and
atmospheric composition (CO, CO2, O3, others).
Measuring biological response to climate and climatic variation,
including the spread of invasive species and infectious diseases, is
central to this program. The IRON application seeks to install the
monitoring infrastructure on BLM land in the Utah West Desert. IRON
asks how ecosystems and their components will respond to changes in
natural and human-induced climate across spatial and temporal scales
and what system attributes best predict sensitivity to climatic
factors. BLM scientists are participating in the design of experiments
specific to land management in the Great Basin.
GBRI is representing the BLM in the development of the ``Great
Basin Research and Management Partnership'' to improve communication
and research to better meet manager needs across the Great Basin. Over
200 managers, scientists, non-government organizations and private
citizens met in Reno, Nevada, in the winter of 2006 and identified
climate change, invasive species, and wildfires as key challenges in
the Great Basin where better linkages between scientists and managers
would prove beneficial. GBRI is also an active participant in the
development of the Great Basin Environmental Program, sponsored by
University of Nevada Reno,
The BLM is an active participant in other research that has or is
producing data and analysis with application in adaptation to climate
change. These efforts include the National Center for Ecological
Analysis and Synthesis Nevada Conservation Area Design, the Joint Fire
Science-Funded Sagebrush Steppe Treatment Evaluation Project and the
USDA-funded Integrating Weed Control and Restoration for Great Basin
Restoring native vegetation where conversions to exotic annual
grasses or noxious weeds have occurred will provide greater plant
community stability under an environment influenced by climate change.
In addition, carbon sequestration will be enhanced in native
communities compared to annual grass communities that reburn at
frequent intervals (Bradley et al. 2006). Nearly 25 million acres of
public lands in the Great Basin have some cheatgrass as a component of
the community (BLM 2000).
The Department of the Interior's Healthy Lands Initiative (http://
www.doi.gov/initiatives/healthylands.html) is providing support and
funds to implement restoration projects at the landscape level with
multiple partners. All of the projects implemented under this
Initiative will promote the maintenance or restoration of healthy
native plant communities with the increased ability to survive or adapt
to anticipated changes in the environment in the future. Three of the
six geographic areas receiving Healthy Lands Initiative funding are in
the Great Basin which provides multiple opportunities to improve or
maintain land health in this important landscape.
The increased focus on native seeds and seeding equipment
improvement supported by GBRI will improve success and efficiency in
the Emergency Stabilization and rehabilitation (ES&R) program. ES&R
seeding treatments after wildfires will not result in the restoration
of fully functioning native plant communities, however these treatments
will start the process toward site stabilization and provide future
opportunities for restoration to native or desired plant communities if
a restoration funding is available.
GBRI will continue to serve as a focal point for the application of
science and technology to successfully restore Great Basin rangelands.
As the science and predictive ability of climate change models
continues to evolve, GBRI will provide a basin-wide perspective on this
issue to inform BLM managers of appropriate restoration strategies.
Based on studies by the U.S. Geological Survey and others, the
Great Basin is experiencing climate change effects that are potentially
expected to increase in the future and may increase impacts of invasive
species and wildfires. Managers in the Great Basin are cognizant of
some of these changes but the magnitude of the changes expected in the
future probably exceed the capability of this fragile desert to adapt
in full to the changes. However, the BLM has a long history of adapting
to environmental variability, so mechanisms are in place to adjust
management to accommodate for some of the projected changes. GBRI and
the BLM will maintain a close watch on invasive species and climate
change in the Great Basin and the science that U.S. Geological Survey
and others provide. GBRI will continue to assist managers in the
adaptation process by supporting the science and technology required to
maintain or restore healthy plant communities.
This concludes my testimony. I would be happy to answer any
questions you may have.
Senator Wyden. Thank you. Thank you both for your
testimony, and let me start by telling you what an
extraordinary session we are part of today.
We have the Senate majority leader sitting in the front
row, totally involved in this kind of effort.
What I want to do is have us walk out of here this morning
with some specific steps that the Senate can take under the
majority leader's leadership that will allow us to tackle it.
I've got some questions and then I'll give you a chance to make
an assessment at the end.
Starting with you Mr. Pellant, our understanding is that in
the progress report on the initiative's 2001 assessment that,
quote, no permanent account exists for restoration, the Great
Basin Restoration Initiative is not a separate line item in the
Now, piecing together a budget for a short period of time
is a pretty precarious exercise, and what I think is needed is
a consistent source of funding so that you can have proper
prioritization, planning and project work, and that's
essentially been what the report has said. So now we're 8 years
into the initiative, and it's my understanding that the
initiative is still, quote, piecing together a budget.
So tell us by way of starting this, how the budget does
work from the initiative and what is precisely the story with
respect to the financing.
Mr. Pellant. Yes. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Basically, the Great Basin Restoration Initiative is
serving as an umbrella with other programs that do fund
restoration through BLM.
For example, I previously mentioned the Healthy Lands
Initiative, there are funds proposed in the budget for BLM, I
think fifteen million dollars that would go to underground
restoration. Three of the Healthy Lands Initiatives, both of
the areas are in the Great Basin, so a large part of the Great
Basin would have a potential to utilize these funds to do the
Also our fields program under the National Fire Plan, a lot
of the activities taken there do promote recovery of healthy
lands as well, so I guess in terms of the Great Basin
Restoration Initiative the funding was primarily through my
position, and then we have a core team of other BLM
representatives from each State, some of our more national and
regional offices, and we kind of function as a group, then, to
try get the message out to provide technical expertise, so I
guess--I guess if that answers your question. If not I'll be
Senator Wyden. No, it still leaves me troubled.
There is no permanent account for restoration as of today,
is that correct? You just kind of look at these various budgets
and sometimes there will be the money and sometimes there
aren't. There's no permanent account today for restoration.
Mr. Pellant. That is correct.
Senator Wyden. Now, the 2001 report, and this is something
important to focus on, I represented, two out of the three
Oregon BLM offices in the Great Basin who weren't participants
in the initiative. Has that changed? Are they involved out of
Mr. Pellant. Again, we, through our Great Basin Restoration
Initiative core team includes a Oregon representative, and then
that representative then works with the field offices to
incorporate the strategies, the technical expertise that the
Great Basin Restoration Initiative basically provides, so I
think all of the offices are aware of the initiative and it's
just various levels of participation, but again, since there
isn't funding for implementation, it's not, you know, a direct
linkage, so to speak, it's more through providing science,
technical expertise and support to carry out activities funded
through other the programs.
Senator Wyden. The testimony submitted by Commissioner
Nichols from my home State discusses the Medusahead challenge,
which was organized in 2004 under the leadership of the
Agricultural Research Service. To what extent has the Great
Basin Restoration Initiative coordinated with that challenge?
Mr. Pellant. Is that the program that Doctor Roger Sealy
Senator Wyden. I think that's part of it.
Mr. Pellant. Yes.
Actually I participated and wrote a letter of support for
that initiative; just actually received word yesterday from
Doctor Sealy that funding was approved, roughly three million
dollars of the five million requested.
So again, this is another program that offers a lot of
opportunity and hope to apply good science to do restoration
and to do it strategically within the Great Basin, and GBRI is
an active member of that team.
Senator Wyden. A recent report from the general accounting
office is very critical of the land management agency's lack of
planning on the climate change question.
That was mentioned by the majority leader and it's a view
that I share.
Now, what the Government Accountability Office has found
was the grassland resource managers agreed that climate change
is not on the agency's agenda as a significant policy concern.
Can you tell me what the Great Basin Initiative is doing to
get an aid to land managers on the climate change question?
Mr. Pellant. Sure.
I guess the first thing, a few years ago we just did a
graph paper on considerations for climate change for land use
planning, and that was distributed widely in the Great Basin.
Currently the Secretary of the Interior has a committee of
DOI agencies, representatives working on climate change, and
one of the strong components of--of those committees is how can
we incorporate those into the management including the
So I think, you know, it hasn't been as far forward on the
radar screen, but I think that's changing fairly rapidly now
with the DOI committee working on it, and just the
acknowledgement and some of the work going on in the Great
Basin in terms of adjusting----
Senator Wyden. When do you think that committee would come
in with an actual plan that would assist the land managers on
the climate change issue?
Mr. Pellant. I'm a member of one of the subcommittees, and
I believe the target decline was by the end of this year.
Ms. Belnap. Yes.
Mr. Pellant. So that's when the first report there, a draft
out for review from the internal committee right now, and I
think it's moving--moving ahead to meet that deadline.
Ms. Belnap. January.
Senator Wyden. We'll give you a little bit of a break, Mr.
Pellant, with some questions for you, and we'll get back to you
before we wrap it up.
Doctor Belnap, on the climate change and wildfire issue, we
have seen the unprecedented level of wildfire activity in the
Great Basin. This began up in Oregon, and Nevada shares, what
do the climate models tell us about future wildfires.
Ms. Belnap. As my testimony indicated, there are a lot of
reasons to expect that this will increase.
The biggest reasons is that we will have drier soils, we'll
have drier fuels, and all of the indications is that invasive
plants will be facilitated by land use, by rising levels of
CO2, and all of the other reasons that they're
invading currently, and so the model would project that they
Senator Wyden. Now, some of the invasive grasses in the
Basin respond more favorably to high level carbon dioxides than
do most of the native grasses.
Tell us a little bit about how that, you know, plays out,
and particularly how climate change in effect worsens those
kind of invasions.
Ms. Belnap. There's a bunch of factors, and CO2
is just one, because the plants have to get established too,
and CO2 facilitates their growth. So first you have
to have the conditions that get them established.
That's more in terms of the soil moisture levels, the
disturbance factors, other things like that, and actually soil
chemistry and physical structure when we determine where they
can invade or not, and I don't want to leave the impression the
entire Great Basin and Colorado Plateau Region are evadable,
because they're not.
There are certain areas that we can triage in this sense.
But once they get established due to these factors, which are
all likely to increase as well, which is why we expect to see
then the CO2 comes into play. Annual plants respond
much more--what--they respond in a greater fashion than
perennial plants. It's not just an annual grass, it can be any
So other invasive annuals are also expected to increase
with the CO2, and so there's this interplay of this
annual versus perennial.
Now, as Mike pointed out, though, we still have very little
indications that--that Cheatgrass actually out-competes the
native plants given the right plan, and so you get the
invasion. I think we can expect to see landscapes for the
interstate filled with Cheatgrass. This does not mean that we
have to lose our native perennial component.
Senator Wyden. With respect to the history of invasive
grasses, what are the historical mechanisms that in effect have
facilitated all of this?
I gather from your testimony and a number of the experts
that there really are a set of historical mechanisms that
facilitated the invasion of all of these exotics and annual
grasses. Tell us a little about that.
Ms. Belnap. There is. It's also still a little puzzling.
Most of the people have said that that annual--well, first
the romas specifically was introduced in about five places
throughout the west, and they were not all accidental.
It spread out from there. One thing that's of importance
is--Oh-oh. I just lost my train of thought. Could you ask me my
question again? I'm sure that's really unusual.
Senator Wyden. Yes.
I think what we're trying to is get a bit of the history,
because you and the other researchers in the field make a
compelling case, that all of this is part of a historical, you
know, evolution, that there are historical mechanisms that are
in effect facilitating the invasion of all of these exotic
grasses, and I think it would be interesting to have that on
Ms. Belnap. So basically everyone thought it took surface
disturbance to get these invasive grasses to get established in
the first place. That said, we have plenty of places where that
could not occur. There's not the surface disturbance, and these
areas are still reinvade.
So my lab has actually spent a lot of time asking this
question about what makes an area evadable or not, and one
thing, really, is climate. It has a huge impact on whether or
not these plants can invade, and so one of the things if you
look back in the history, in the front of the invasion what has
happened is invasions have gone just wild in the years.
Cheatgrass germinates in the fall.
If we have three, four, 5 weeks of good, constant rains,
they don't need to be heavy rains, just good constant rains in
those falls, you will have huge germination events.
So there's another--it actually ties together. There's two
ways. Basically these guys need soil, they need the seeds, they
need to stay moist to germinate. They can either be covered
with soil through surface disturbance, or they can get a lot of
rain. Either thing works, and so I think part of the big
historical picture here that we've always been confused in
saying oh, it takes disturbance to germinate; it also can be
climate; it's just keeping those seeds healthy, and once they
do, then they really go to town and that creates this conflict
that we see in the literature about well, it can't invade in
undisturbed areas; they have to be invasive in disturbed areas.
But this means probably in the future what we're looking at
are those extreme areas is when the Cheatgrass is really going
to take off, because another thing to keep in mind is every
time it rains, it may not be enough rain to sustain a plant,
but it releases nutrients and those nutrients build up so when
it does rain to germinate those plants, they have a nutrient-
rich environment to germinate in.
Senator Wyden. What would you say are the most significant
influences on invasive species, say in the next 20 years?
Ms. Belnap. I think it's going to be that relationship
between those climate years where things were perfect, and soil
surface disturbance. It's going to be how those two interact,
and then fire is the other thing was that we have to bring into
it because fire also brings soil nutrients to the surface, and
so we see a real enhancement of Cheatgrass invasion after fire,
so that can come, and that's very much a climate and vegetation
feedback, so it's going to be those three factors.
Senator Wyden. Let's wrap up this panel with this question
for you, Mr. Pellant, and then for you, Doctor Belnap.
Let's say our roles are reversed, and you are chair of the
Subcommittee on Forestry and Public Lands, and your close
friends, the Senate majority leader, the audience is engrossed
by this, and as chair of this subcommittee you could recommend
a couple of things to the Senate majority leaders that would
really help the Basin.
What would, say, two things be, concrete steps, Mr.
Pellant, that would make a big difference if we pursue them?
Mr. Pellant. That's a tough question, and I never wanted to
get into politics.
Senator Wyden. We'll let you do the role reversal for
purposes of this question, and then you can go back to doing
the good work.
Mr. Pellant. I think one obvious need is just resources to
address these issues. I like to talk about--we don't want to
look back twenty years from now and talk about the good old
days when Cheatgrass was our problem because we've got other
weeds, we've got other issues interacting with climate change
that our environment is even more degraded, so I think
resources, both the science to support better decisions is
important, and I think the ability to apply proactive
restoration treatments; it's kind of the ``pay now or pay more
We can go out and put out fires, we can kill weeds, and we
can do it time after time, versus going out and getting in an
area that's big, so to speak, so if we do have a disturbance
like fire or climate change, which becomes more of an impact,
we've got a diverse community to support not only the ecology
of the area but support the proper management also accommodates
all of the uses.
Senator Wyden. On those proactive treatments, which would
Mr. Pellant. I think a lot of our priorities now are just
again to maintain those areas that are still functioning.
It's much cheaper and much better ecologically and
economically in the long run to maintain community, keep fire
out of it; fire is going to bring in Cheatgrass, so I think
that idea of fuels, management on those perimeters is very
important, just like we do on the wild land urban areas, and
then again that idea is strategic; if we dole out money and
bring it down to our smallest administrative units, we tend to
just get back to the postage stamp approach.
What we're doing with this healthy public land use is
trying to work together to identify those really critical
areas, and not just fix one problem, but kind of make the area
whole, so to speak, if there's riparian problems, weed
problems, Cheatgrass problem, and try to fix an area and then
move on, but do that in a strategic, priority-based manner.
Senator Wyden. Doctor Belnap, the roles are reversed.
Ms. Belnap. Do I have to wear a tie?
Senator Wyden. No, you don't have to wear a tie.
I can see your great affection of both of you for politics.
This will a one-time deal, so just pretend you're chair of the
Ms. Belnap. I think our biggest need is understanding.
We really are just in beginning stages of understanding
what drives conditions that are invasive, and we need to
understand the feedback groups, we need to understand more
about what's creating these problems. As was pointed out
earlier, we're treating the symptoms. We really need to
understand the mechanisms behind the problem. To me that takes
a very substantial, planned, carefully thought-out and
continuing effort, and with coordination we've got all of these
efforts going on all over the map.
One thing that I can see that we really need is to get
everyone thinking the same thoughts along the same path, and
getting them to talk to each other and that includes the
managers, it includes the policymakers, it includes the
But to really--it's--of course, I'm going to sound like I'm
talking job security--but there's so much science that needs to
be done for us to really make informed decisions. You know,
right now we're just doing whatever we think is going to work
because it's all we know. We could find out a whole lot more.
We really--and I'm very optimistic about this, you know, I
don't think it's hopeless at all, I think that we really--we're
an incredibly ingenious species, and I think that we can really
take this on and fix it.
Senator Wyden. Won't it help to get the proper
prioritization to have that separate line item in the budget
through the Restoration Initiative, that's what the progress
report says. The progress report says specifically you get it,
the separate line item on the budget, and that's something that
will really be useful with respect to proper prioritization and
Ms. Belnap. I don't know about the best techniques to reach
the goal, but to me the goal is to get that long-termed
sustained effort that's coordinated and, you know, if that's
the best way, I don't know that.
Senator Wyden. Fair enough.
Ms. Belnap. But, you know, we certainly need that sustained
Senator Wyden. Good.
Thank you both for your good work, and know that you're
putting a lot of effort into this cause, and the time is short.
I think that was the point of the majority leader today. It's a
point that I've tried to emphasize, this is something that you
can't put off, and we thank you both for your good work.
Let's go to our next panel, the Honorable Dan Nichols, from
my wonderful State, Harney County; Patricia Mulroy, from the
Southern Nevada Water Authority and Doctor Boyd Spratling of
the Nevada Cattlemen's Association.
Mr. Nichols. Thank you.
Senator Wyden. Thank you for being here, Ms. Mulroy, and do
the Nevada cattlemen have a lot of involvement with Doctor
Skinner in raising cattle?
Mr. Spratling. Yes, we do, I saw her a couple of weeks ago.
Senator Wyden. Very good. All right, let's begin with you,
STATEMENT OF DAN NICHOLS, RANCHER AND COUNTY COMMISSIONER,
HARNEY COUNTY, OR
Mr. Nichols. Thank you, Senator, for the opportunity to
discuss the future environmental concerns affecting the Great
Basin, and thank you for your support and what you have done
for us in Harney County and the Great Basin and the efforts
that you have put into it and your attempt to understand these
complex issues. Thank you.
As a rancher and a county commissioner I have the
opportunity to attend lots of meetings here and lots of
opinions, being around scientists of different levels. I've
come to believe that continued exponential spread of Medusahead
rye is absolutely the paramount environmental threat to the
Great Basin and the surrounding ecosystems.
The Medusahead invasion has the potential to devastate the
economics of rural western communities and create environmental
damage that will have negative consequences to the land and its
citizens for generations in the future.
Medusahead has invaded over 20 million acres throughout the
western States, with the majority of the invasion occurring on
public lands. Medusahead is an alien invasive weed that
originated from the Mediterranean region.
It was first recorded in Oregon in the 1880s and was found
throughout the Willamette Valley and had spread into Idaho by
1940. By 1995 it was estimated that Medusahead had occupied one
million acres in Idaho. It expanded south from Oregon into
California, and it is thought that now may have successfully
invaded all suitable sites within California that are
approximately five million acres.
Medusahead has mainly invaded public and private land
within the Great Basin, but has also created large, continuous
infestations in ten States and is now being reported to be in
New York and Pennsylvania as well. Invasions have been
expanding exponentially since 1972 and now are expanding faster
than nearly all other invasive weeds in the United States.
Medusahead basically thrives in clay soils, but I just
learned the other day they're finding infestations in loam
soils as well, which exacerbates the problem.
The climate precipitation patterns of the Great Basin are
very conducive to Medusahead. Harney County, as an example, has
an average precipitation level of eleven inches a year, with
that coming mostly in the spring and fall in the form of snow
and fall rains.
Harney County is the largest county in Oregon with a land
mass of 10,121 square miles, it's larger than six States in the
union, and the ownership is 27 percent privately owned property
versus 73 percent Federal and State ownership.
Our local NRCS maps, soil maps, indicate that an excess of
70 percent of the soil types in Harney County are conducive to
the establishment of Medusahead monocultures, so that's
basically what the land mass, land mass of the Federal and
State property in Harney County. It has, needless to say, it
has a devastating impact on our local cattle industry,
agricultural industry; it also affects land that provides
habitat for mule deer, elk, sage grouse, native redband trout
and bighorn sheep.
All of these species and more are absolutely susceptible to
the detrimental effects of Medusahead monocultures and are
negatively juxtaposed with current efforts and dollars being
spent by the government agencies to protect them and enhance
Medusahead basically deteriorates healthy intact shrub-
steppe communities into annual grass monocultures. It grows for
short periods in the spring and fall permanently changes the
nutrient and hydrological cycles while accelerating erosion.
The thick mat of fine litter is slow to decompose because of
its 10 percent silica composition, which is basically glass.
This composition is the reason for an eighty percent reduction
in grazing value, resulting in large amounts of fine fuels for
intensive wildfire occurrences.
The Federal Interagency Committee for the management of
noxious weeds reports that annual grass infestations increase
the frequency of major wildlife--excuse me--wildland fires to
every 3 years from every sixty years, and we're starting to see
that within major portions of the Western States.
This past summer in excess of 130,000 acres burned, with an
estimated cost in excess of eight million dollars in
suppression efforts just in Harney County alone. These cost
figures do not include the cost to private landowners from
timber and grazing loss, herd reductions, supplemental fees and
other associated business losses. Basically Medusahead promotes
fire, and fire promotes Medusahead.
Wildfire destroys the sagebrush portion of the plant
community. Sagebrush is host to a variety of wildlife, only one
of which is the Sage Grouse. Sage Grouse is considered by some
to be the key indicator species for the sagebrush steppe
ecosystem of the Great Basin. It is a current example of the
kinds of wildlife destruction that is created by this invasive
The US Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a 12-month
finding for Greater Sage Grouse, and the Conservation
Assessment of Greater Sage Grouse and Sage Grouse habitats. The
report concluded that two primary habitat threats are fires and
invasive species such as Medusahead. All of these and many
other ecological impacts translate into direct economic impacts
on the Great Basin, where our livelihoods depend on a
sustainable natural resource base. Watersheds are at risk,
wildlife habitat is being destroyed, riparian areas are
affected and frequent fires continue to accelerate the invasion
process of Medusahead costing the Federal Governmental millions
of dollars in suppressive activities.
The livestock industry is at risk and is the dominate
industry throughout much of the Great Basin which supports the
rural infrastructure and economies in nearby towns.
Medusahead has a direct and negative impact on hunting and
other outdoor recreation opportunities that also comprise a
portion of our local economies. Medusahead basically is an
invasive weed that has no redeeming values. Medusahead trumps
Cheatgrass, Juniper, the other invasive weeds, and the fact
that it is a horribly tenacious weed and creates strictly an
absolute monoculture. Medusahead will out-compete Cheatgrass,
and with Cheatgrass there is some forage value, some habitat
value. Medusahead, basically there is none. Because of its
chemical composition and physiology, it essentially has no
grazing or habitat value for the wildlife or domestic
Due to the spring and fall growth patterns, it permanently
changes the nutrient and hydrological cycles. Long-term
negative effects on watershed and water resources are a logical
outcome of the invasive Medusahead monoculture.
Considering the plausible desertification trend of
Medusahead and the region of the world that it originated from,
are we possibly heading toward the desert landscapes of the
mid-east as a result of the continued expansion of the
Medusahead monocultures within the Great Basin? With that
serious possibility and that reality, a group of local land
managers, private landowners, researchers, scientists,
educators and conservationists from six western States of
Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, California and Utah met in
Burns, Oregon in 2004 and created the Medusahead Challenge
under the leadership of the USDA Agricultural Research Service
From that initial meeting over 150 people from the diverse
entities mentioned above have created a working partnership and
developed a strategic plan to deal with Medusahead from a
comprehensive, holistic and systems approach.
The mission of the Medusahead Challenge is to enhance and
coordinate education, research and management of Medusahead
across the Western States. This outcome based program outlines
14 separate large scale management activities, 27 research
projects and 14 educational programs necessary to protect the
On behalf of the Medusahead Challenge and Harney County, I
would request your continued help to fully implement this plan.
This group has been working successfully in a collaborative
process combining private landowners, private business,
scientific expertise, Federal agencies and conservation groups.
Over time it has become clear that a large well-coordinated
holistic approach will be required if they are to make timely
progress managing Medusahead and mitigating the ecological and
economic impacts of the Great Basin associated with this
The Medusahead Challenge is well prepared and structured to
implement the most ecologically based comprehensive program
possible. Dedicated people have been working in a collaborative
effort for the past 4 years, but now need your help for some
long-term funding for the Medusahead Challenge through the USDA
Agricultural Research Service in Burns.
Once again, an appropriations fund request for 2008 has
been submitted for a total of one million dollars. This is a
motivated consortium of people that have been collectively
leveraging a variety of resources to meet the goals and
objectives of the plan. Their continued advance in an effort to
combat this major threat to the ecological and economic well-
being of the Great Basin could be enhanced with your support.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Nichols follows:]
Prepared Statement of Dan Nichols, Rancher and County Commissioner,
Harney County, OR
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss future environmental
threats to the Great Basin ecosystem. As a rancher and conservationist
I believe that the continued, exponential spread of medusahead is the
paramount environmental threat to the Great Basin and surrounding
ecosystems. The medusahead invasion has the potential to devastate the
economies of rural western communities and create environmental damage
that will have negative consequences to the land and its citizens for
generations into the future. Medusahead has invaded over 20 million
acres throughout the western States with the majority of the invasion
occurring on public lands.
Medusahead thrives in the clay soils, climate and precipitation
patterns of the Great Basin. Hanley County, as an example, has an
average precipitation level of 11 inches a year with most of that in
the form of snow and spring rain. Harney County is the largest county
in Oregon with a land mass of 10,121 square miles and is larger than
six States in the Union. Ownership is comprised of 27% private and 73%
federal and state ownership. Local NRCS soil maps indicate that an
excess of 70% of the soils in Harney County are conducive to the
establishment of medusahead monocultures. That is basically equal to
the landmass of the federal and state rangelands that are an integral.
part of the counties livestock industry. It is also land that provides
habitat for mule deer, elk, sage gouse, native redband trout and
bighorn sheep. All of these species and more are absolutely susceptible
to the detrimental effects of medusahead monocultures and are
negatively juxtaposed with current efforts and dollars being spent by
government agencies to protect them and enhance their environments.
Medusahead is an alien invasive weed originating from the
Mediterranean region. It was first recorded in Oregon in the 1880's and
was found throughout the Willamette Valley and into Idaho by 1940. By
1995 it was estimated that medusahead occupied 1 million acres in
Idaho. It expanded south into California and may have successfully
invaded all suitable sites within California at approximately 5 million
acres. Medusahead has mainly invaded public and private land within the
Great Basin but it has also created large continous infestations in 10
states including New York and Pennsylvania. Invasions have been
expanding exponentially since 1972 and are now expanding faster than
nearly all other invasive weeds in the United States.
Medusahead deteriorates healthy intact shrub-steppe communities
into annual grass monocultures. It grows for short periods in. the
spring and fall and permanently changes the nutrient and hydrological
cycles while accelerating erosion. The thick mat of fine litter is slow
to decompose because of the 10% silica composition (the main compound
of glass). This composition is the reason for an 80% reduction in
grazing value resulting in large amounts of fine fuels for intensive
wildfire occurrences. The Federal Interagency Committee for the
Management of Noxious Weeds reports that annual grass infestations
increase the frequency of major wildland fires to every 3 years from
every 60 years. This past summer in excess of 130,000 acres burned with
an estimated cost in excess of eight million dollars in suppression
efforts occurred in Harney County alone. These cost figures do not
include the cost to private landowners for timber and grazing loss,
herd reductions, supplemental feed and other associated business
losses. Medusahead promotes tire and fire promotes medusahead.
Wildfire destroys the sagebrush portion of the plant community.
Sagebrush is host to a variety of wildlife, only one of which is the
sage grouse. Sage grouse is considered by some a key indicator species
of the sagebrush steppe ecosystem of the Great Basin. It is a current
example of the kinds of wildlife destruction that is created by this
invasive weed. Sage grouse were nearly placed on the threatened and
endangered species list in 2006. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
conducted a 12 month finding for Greater-Sage grouse and the
Conservation Assessment of Greater Sage grouse and Sagebrush Habitats.
They reported that two primary habitat threats are fires and invasive
species such as medusahead.
All of these and many other ecological impacts translate into
direct economic impacts in the Great Basin where our livelihoods depend
upon a sustainable natural resource base. Watersheds are at risk,
wildlife habitat is being destroyed, riparian areas are affected and
frequent fires continue to accelerate the invasion process costing the
federal government millions of dollars in suppression activities. The
livestock industry is at risk and is the dominate industry throughout
much of the Great Basin which supports the rural infrastructure and
economies of nearby towns. Medusahead has a direct and negative impact
on hunting and other outdoor recreation opportunities that also
comprise a portion of our local economies.
Medusahead is an invasive weed that basically has no redeeming
values. It is a tenacious weed that has the ability to expand and
thrive under extreme conditions. It outcompetes other plant species for
available water and nutrients. Because of its chemical composition and
physiology it essentially has no grazing or habitat value for wildlife
or domestic livestock. Due to the spring and fall growth pattern it
permanently changes the nutrient and hydrological cycles that are
considered to be the initial stages of desertification by many
scientists. Long term negative effects on watershed and water resources
are a logical outcome of an invasive medusahead monoculture.
Considering the plausible desertification trend of medusahead and the
region of the world that it originated from are we heading toward the
desert landscapes of the mid-east as a result of the continued
expansion of medusahead monocultures in the Great Basin?
With the serious possibility of that reality a group of public land
managers, private landowners, researchers, scientists and educators
from six western states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada,
California and Utah met in Burns, Oregon in 2004 and created the
Medusahead Challenge under the leadership of the USDA-Agricultural
Research Service in Burns. From that initial meeting over 150 people
from the diverse entities mentioned above have created a working
partnership and developed a strategic plan to deal with medusahcad from
a comprehensive, holistic and systems approach. The mission of the
Medusahead Challenge is to enhance and coordinate education, research
and management of medusahead across the western states. This outcome
based program outlines 14 separate large-scale management activities,
27 research projects and 14 educational programs necessary to protect
the Great Basin. On behalf of the Medusahead Challenge and Harney
County I request your help to fully implement this plan.
This group has been working successfully in a collaborative process
combining private landowners, private business, scientific expertise,
federal agencies and conservation groups. Over time it has become clear
that a large well coordinated, holistic approach will be required if
they are to make timely progress managing medusahead and mitigating the
ecological and economic impacts for the Great Basin associated with
this invasive weed. The Medusahead Challenge is well prepared and
structured to implement the most ecologically based comprehensive
program possible. Dedicated people have been working in a collaborative
effort for the past three years but now need your help through some
long tens funding for the Medusahead Challenge through the USDA-
Agricultural Research Service in Burns, Oregon. Once again, an
appropriations fund request for 2008 has been submitted for $1,000,000.
This is a motivated consortium of people that have been collectively
leveraging a variety of resources to meet the goals and objectives of
the plan. Their continued advance in an effort to combat this major
threat to the ecological and economic well being of the Great Basin
could be enhanced with your support.
Thank you for your time and your consideration of this request.
Senator Wyden. Very good. Thank you, we'll have some
questions for you in a moment.
STATEMENT OF PATRICIA MULROY, GENERAL MANAGER, SOUTHERN NEVADA
WATER AUTHORITY, LAS VEGAS, NV
Ms. Mulroy. Mr. Chairman, I'd like to thank you for the
opportunity to be able to testify here today, and I'd
particularly like to thank you and our Senate majority leader,
Senator Reid, for allowing me this opportunity to bring out of
the shadows an issue that I feel will define western culture
and the culture in the western United States for this coming
My name is Pat Mulroy, and I'm the general manager of the
Southern Nevada Water Authority, and I've been involved in
water issues in Southern Nevada and the Colorado River Basin
for over 20 years.
I would like to offer some perspective on an issue that has
far-reaching consequences on the future of existing water
supplies in the Western United States over the next century;
that issue, quite simply stated, is climate change. Perhaps
nowhere in the west are the consequences of climate change more
manifest than in the Colorado River Basin, which abuts the
Great Basin to the east and to the south, where a sustained
drought has altered our historical understanding of the river.
It's forcing communities such as ours to adjust
infrastructure plans, improve water efficiency and develop
additional unused water supplies to maintain the reliability of
our delivery system, and all of this has happened in just a
matter of a few years. Because of its many storage facilitates,
the Colorado River has always been considered a very reliable
water supply. However, this quickly changed as the river
entered what soon became the worst drought in recorded history.
The impacts have been daunting.
Since 2001 inflows to Lakes Powell and Mead have been below
average for all but 1 year, with 2002 being the worst thus far
at 25 percent of average, inflows into Lake Powell over the
past 7 years have been 61 percent of normal.
Today both Lakes Powell and Mead sit at roughly 49 percent
capacity, a combined loss of around 25 million acre feet of
water in less than a decade. It's sobering to note that Lake
Mead would probably be dry today, were it not for the Glen
Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. Almost two million in the Las Vegas
valley depend on Lake Mead for this daily water. Millions of
others depend on it depend on it in Arizona, California and the
country of Mexico. Because of the drought Southern Nevada has
had to take steps to protect the operation of its two drinking
water intakes in Lake Mead. Both are threatened by the lake's
steadily declining water levels. The upper intake could be out
of service as soon as 2010.
To address this situation we're proceeding as quickly as
possible with the construction of a third intake. This new
intake is not expected, however, to be completed before 2013.
To address the loss of capacity that will occur at lake levels
fall below the upper intake, we are augmenting the pumping
capacity of our lower intake and have constructed bypass
pipelines at our water treatment facility. This will allow our
lower intake to deliver adequate water supplies while the third
intake is still being constructed.
To further offset the drought's impact, Southern Nevada has
implemented one of the most aggressive water conservation
programs in the country. We adopted a comprehensive drought
response plan initially that has actually resulted in permanent
changes to how we use water.
The plan involves the mix of regional policy, education,
pricing and incentives, including increases to tiered water
rates, prohibition of turf in front yards and new developments;
restrictions on time of day of watering, innovative
conservation advertising and extensive water waste enforcement.
The centerpiece of this new ethic is our Water Smart Landscapes
Program. With money derived from local connection charges, this
program provides water customers with rebates for removing turf
from their landscaping. To date it has provided more than
$85,000,000 in rebates and has resulted in our use for it
declining by eighteen billion gallons and this despite nearly
330,000 new residents and 40,000,000 annual visitors.
Most importantly, conservation has evolved from a temporary
drought response into a permanent way of life in Southern
Nevada. As we transformed our approach to conservation, the
seven States of the Colorado River Basin came together in
response to the drought and embarked on negotiations to
establish guidelines for dealing with shortage.
After years of discussion, the State submitted a
comprehensive proposal to the Secretary of Interior in 2006
that establishes shortage guidelines and creates incentives for
conservation and efficiency, and I'm happy to say that Monday
the final pieces of that were put together to where it's now
final. The proposal is a milestone in the history of the river.
For the first time a shared shortage amongst States and
cities has been established, one that recognizes the
interdependent nature of the river's users and the need to
share impacts. This would not have been possible 10 years ago.
To increase flexibility on the river, the seven Basin States
are promoting changes to reservoir operations, interstate
groundwater banking and other cooperative efforts.
For example, Nevada is helping to fund construction of a
reservoir in California in return for a one-time supply of
water. We've also funded a study of future supply options,
predominantly desalination. Beyond these efforts, Southern
Nevada is moving forward to develop an alternate water supply
that is hydrologically independent of the river. That supply is
comprised of unused groundwater and several hydrographic basins
in Eastern Nevada.
This year we were granted the right to 60,000 acre feet in
Spring Valley, the pumping of which we must step into
To protect the environment, we've acquired seven large
ranches in the area and have entered into a process with four
agencies of the Department of Interior to monitor and now
manage the valley's natural resources and the rural lifestyle.
An integral part of our effort is to work with local, State and
Federal agencies to protect the Great Basin from some of the
threats that you've heard outlined here this morning.
Although these efforts--through these efforts we can
responsibly develop this essential water supply. Let me
underscore the word ``essential.'' Today approximately 90
percent of Southern Nevada's water supply comes from the
Colorado River. Further shortfalls in the Colorado River will
jeopardize this community's water supply unless we develop
In a community that already reuses 100 percent of its waste
water, nothing short of an alternative supply will protect us
from this risk. We've noted for over a decade in our water
resource plan that conservation is the cornerstone, but it
cannot be the only solution. The reliability of our water
system and its supply are equally important. To solve the water
resource challenges posed by climate change we will need
additional supplies of unused water to protect us from the
shortages that we know are coming on this river system. What
we're experiencing today on the Colorado River may be a
harbinger of an entirely new reality for the two countries and
seven States within the United States that have come to rely so
heavily on this river's scant resources. Old paradigms of
single source supply are relics of a time gone by.
The security of communities in the arid west will depend on
conservation, diversification of the resource portfolio and
perhaps most critically, the recognition that we are
interdependent. Only by embracing cooperation and partnership
and by balancing competing needs and demands can we set new
standards for resource management that will see our communities
through this century and the consequences of climatic
Thank you for your time, and I'll be happy to answer
[The prepared statement of Ms. Mulroy follows:]
Prepared Statement of Patricia Mulroy, General Manager, Southern Nevada
Water Authority, Las Vegas, NV
Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, thank you for the
opportunity to testify today.
My name is Pat Mulroy, General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water
Authority. I have been involved in water issues in Southern Nevada and
the Colorado River Basin for over 20 years.
I would like to offer some perspective on an issue that has far-
reaching consequences for future water development and the reliability
of existing water supplies in the western United States over the next
century. That issue is climate change.
Perhaps nowhere are the consequences of climate change more
manifest than in the Colorado River Basin. Here, a sustained drought
has altered our historical understanding of the river and challenged
many underlying assumptions about its long-term management. It is
forcing communities such as ours to adjust infrastructure plans,
improve water efficiency and develop additional unused water supplies
to maintain the reliability of our delivery systems. All this has
happened in only a matter of years.
As inconceivable as it sounds today, the States of the Colorado
River Basin and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spent much of the
nineties in negotiations about dividing surplus water on the river.
Predictive models had indicated that the probability of a major water
shortage was virtually zero. In the absence of compelling data or
evidence to the contrary, most stakeholders on the river accepted this.
This quickly changed as the river entered what soon became the
worst drought in the recorded history of the system. The impacts of the
drought have been daunting. Since 2001, inflows to Lakes Powell and
Mead have been below average for all but one year, with 2002 being the
worst thus far at 25 percent of average. Historical average inflows
into Lake Powell over the past seven years have been 61 percent of
normal. Today, both Lake Powell and Lake Mead sit at roughly 49 percent
of capacity--a combined loss of around 25 million acre-feet of system
water, and in only a handful of years. It is sobering to note that Lake
Mead would probably be dry today were it not for Glen Canyon Dam and
Lake Powell. Almost two million people in the greater Las Vegas Valley
depend on Lake Mead for their daily water. Millions of others depend on
it downstream in Arizona and California.
Because of the drought, Southern Nevada has had to take steps to
protect the operation of its two drinking water intakes in Lake Mead.
Both are threatened by the lake's steadily declining water levels. The
highest intake, Intake No. 1, sits at elevation 1050 and could be out
of service as soon as 2010. The second intake, at elevation 1000, could
be threatened sometime after that. To address the situation, Southern
Nevada is proceeding as quickly as possible with the construction of a
third intake. This new intake is not expected to be completed before
2013. To address the loss of capacity that will occur if lake levels
fall below the level of Intake No. 1, we have augmented the pumping
capacity for our second intake and constructed bypass pipelines at our
Lake Mead water treatment facility. This will allow our second intake
to compensate for the loss of Intake No. 1 and move up to 600 million
gallons of water per day into the valley while the third intake is
To further offset the impacts of the drought, Southern Nevada
implemented more aggressive water conservation. When the Authority was
formed in 1991, the region embarked on a modest campaign to achieve 10
percent conservation by 2010. By 2003, with the drought as backdrop,
Southern Nevada adopted a comprehensive drought response plan that has
resulted in permanent changes to how the community uses water. The plan
involves a mix of regional policy, education, pricing and incentive
initiatives, including increases to tiered water rates among all local
water purveyors, prohibition of turf in front yards of new development,
restrictions on time and day of watering, more innovative conservation
advertising, and extensive water waste enforcement. The centerpiece of
Southern Nevada's new conservation ethic is the Water Smart Landscapes
Program. With revenues derived from local connection charges paid by
new development, this program provides water customers with rebates for
removing turf from their landscaping. To date, the program has provided
more than $85 million in rebates, saving more than five billion gallons
of water each year.
As a result of these conservation efforts, Southern Nevada's
consumptive water use declined by approximately 18 billion gallons
between 2002 and 2006, despite the arrival of nearly 330,000 new
residents and 40 million annual visitors. Most importantly,
conservation in our community has evolved from a temporary drought
response into a permanent way of life.
As Southern Nevada transformed its approach to conservation, the
seven States of the Colorado River Basin came together in response to
the drought and embarked on negotiations to establish guidelines for
dealing with shortage on the Colorado River. After several years of
discussion, the States submitted a comprehensive proposal to the
Secretary of the Interior in 2006 that establishes shortage guidelines
and creates incentives for conservation and efficiency.
The proposal is a milestone in the history of the river. For the
first time, a shared shortage among states and cities has been
established, one that recognizes the interdependent nature of the
river's users and the need to share impacts. To cite one example, in
the event that the Secretary of the Interior declares a shortage on the
Colorado River and Arizona cities are forced to cut back, Southern
Nevada has agreed to reduce its consumption from the river by a
proportionate amount. This type of arrangement would have been
considered impossible ten years ago. It is happening today in direct
response to the drought and long-term concern over how climate change
may affect future water availability from the Colorado River.
In conjunction with their proposal to the Secretary of the
Interior, the seven basin states are undertaking a number of water
management initiatives to increase flexibility on the river system.
These include changes in the reservoir operation of Lakes Powell and
Mead, additional interstate groundwater banking and other efforts. For
example, a demonstration project to assess the use of ``intentionally
created surpluses,'' which would allow water from extraordinary
conservation gains to be stored in Lakes Powell or Mead and withdrawn
in future years, is underway at the Metropolitan Water District of
Southern California. Southern Nevada is helping to fund the
construction of the Drop 2 Storage Reservoir Project along the All-
American Canal in return for a one-time supply of water that can be
accessed in future years. The Drop 2 structure is intended to capture
water that would otherwise be lost to Mexico over and above existing
treaty obligations between that country and the United States. We have
also funded a study of future supply options such as desalination for
use by the seven basin states.
Beyond these collaborative efforts on the Colorado River, Southern
Nevada is moving forward on its own plans to develop an alternate water
supply that is hydrologically independent of the river. That supply is
comprised of applications and water rights for available, unused
groundwater in several hydrographic basins in eastern Nevada.
Two basins in particular form the backbone of this in-state
groundwater project: Spring Valley and Snake Valley. Located west of
Wheeler Peak and the Great Basin National Park, Spring Valley has
perhaps the largest amount of unappropriated water of any basin in
Nevada. In April 2007, the Nevada State Engineer granted Southern
Nevada the right to 60,000 acre-feet in Spring Valley, the pumping of
which we must step into gradually. In Snake Valley, a basin that is
shared by both Nevada and Utah, Southern Nevada has applications for
approximately 50,000 acre-feet of available, unused groundwater. Both
states continue to negotiate over the disposition of water in Snake
Unlike Snake Valley, there is no community in Spring Valley, only a
series of large ranches. Between 2006 and 2007, the Southern Nevada
Water Authority acquired seven of these ranch properties as part of its
commitment to adaptive management of the groundwater basins that
encompass our in-state water project. The properties included more than
33,000 acre-feet of surface water rights and more than 6,000 acre-feet
of groundwater rights, as well as a host of biological, recreational
and other resources that will help support sustainable development of
the water supply while minimizing impacts to the environment. To this
end, we are retaining the surface water rights within the valley and
will use them to recharge the basin as part of an overall effort to
manage and protect the aesthetic and environmental values of the
surrounding area. We will also continue ranching activities in Spring
Valley to help the watershed and environment, and have hired a ranch
manager who is developing and implementing strategies for more
efficient and sustainable agricultural practices. Lastly, we entered
into a stipulation agreement with the U.S. Department of Interior in
September 2006 on behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
National Park Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Bureau
of Indian Affairs that outlines a detailed process for monitoring and
management of Spring Valley as the in-state project moves forward.
Through these various efforts, we can develop this essential water
supply in a way that meets the needs of Southern Nevada, but does not
compromise the basin of origin's natural resources or way of life.
Let me take a few moments to underscore that word ``essential.''
Today, approximately 90 percent of Southern Nevada's water supply comes
from the Colorado River. About 10 percent comes from groundwater in the
Las Vegas Valley. Climate change and the drought may have helped
transform Southern Nevada's conservation ethic to one of the most
progressive in the West, but it also reminded us that you cannot supply
100 percent of an area's demands with only 10 percent of its water
supply. In other words, further shortfalls in the Colorado River could
jeopardize that portion of our water supply, leaving our community
exposed unless we move forward as planned and develop alternate
supplies such as the in-state groundwater project. There is nothing
short of an alternative supply that will protect us from continued
drought or future shortages. In terms of conservation, Southern Nevada
has noted for over a decade in its regional water resource plan that
conservation is the least expensive resource available to us. As such,
it remains a priority when it comes to our balancing of the many
competing interests that need to be addressed when managing water (1)
in the most arid desert in the country, (2) for one of the fastest
growing populations in the country, (3) in a valley with groundwater
supplies that are fully appropriated, (4) in a state with the fewest
rights to Colorado River water of all the states that use the river,
and (5) in a region with no agricultural water use to provide a supply
buffer in times of shortage. However, conservation cannot be our only
priority. The reliability of our water system and its supply are
The reliability of a water system is not only a function of its
physical infrastructure, but also of its ability to shift water
supplies in the event of unforeseen circumstances. California is one
example--their ability to shift supplies to alternate sources in
response to climatic conditions is allowing them to avert a potentially
disastrous shortfall. Reliability is the reason we invested in a second
intake long ago and are currently developing a third. It is the reason
we continue to diversify our water resource portfolio for current and
future use. To solve the water management challenges posed by climate
change and our unique situation as a desert community, we will still
need additional, permanent supplies of unused water as an insurance
policy to protect us from drought and shortages on the Colorado River.
Our goal is to reduce our dependency on Colorado River water to
approximately 60 percent by 2050.
As the drought has demonstrated, climate change represents an
unprecedented challenge for Western communities, particularly as it
relates to developing, storing and delivering adequate water supplies.
The types of internecine fights for resource independence that marked
our past have to be replaced by a recognition of interdependence. If a
city develops groundwater supplies in an area outside its own
boundaries, it is not a given that the area will be destroyed. There
are sufficient environmental standards and regulatory processes to
prevent such a thing, but most importantly, it is not in a community's
interest to exhaust or irreparably harm resources that are vital to its
own well-being. Rural communities will find that partnerships with an
urban area can provide them with the resources needed to survive the
impacts of climate change. And while urban conservation has long been
the focus of much attention, there are many opportunities for
improvement in agricultural irrigation. Urban areas are increasingly
willing to finance those ventures.
What we are experiencing today on the Colorado River may be a
harbinger of an entirely new reality for the two countries and the
seven states within the United States that have come to rely so heavily
on this river's scant resources. Old paradigms of single-source supply
are relics of a time we cannot assume will return in the foreseeable
future. The security of communities in the arid west will depend on
conservation, diversification of the resource portfolio and, perhaps
most critically, the recognition that we are interdependent. Only by
embracing cooperation and partnership, and by balancing competing needs
and demands, can we set new standards for resource management that will
see our communities through this century and the consequences of
climatic uncertainty. Our experiences in the Colorado River Basin and
here in Southern Nevada demonstrate that many of our most difficult
water issues can be resolved if everyone is willing to work together,
take the time to understand one another's point of view, and share in
the occasional tradeoffs necessary to achieve meaningful, long-lasting
Thank you for your time. I will be happy to answer any questions
you may have.
Senator Wyden. Thank you for your testimony.
Doctor Spratling, welcome. We have some good news. I can
tell more again on Saturday when I meet the Oregon cabinet.
STATEMENT OF BOYD SPRATLING, PRESIDENT, NEVADA CATTLEMEN'S
ASSOCIATION, ELKO, NV
Mr. Spratling. It's good to hear we do have some good news.
I'd like to outline a little bit some of the things that we
have in common with concerns from the Oregon commissioner.
My name is Boyd Spratling. I'm the Nevada Cattlemen's
president, a veterinarian and I'm a rancher in northeastern
Nevada which on that map you saw earlier was kind of the ground
zero for a large number of fires and some huge fires in that
Since 1999 things have changed, you know, you just look at
fires that were ten to 20,000 acres, the vicinity is being the
Now we're seeing fires with acreage in excess of six digits
as being the norm. One hundred thousand acre fires are nothing.
Six hundred thousand acre fires are something that I think that
we'll see more of and that is our concern. We know that fire is
very complex and the cause for it is very complex, and we would
submit, though, that fuels buildup, is probably one of the
major portion or cornerstone of that problem. We're talking
about fuels buildup. We have--the land managers have observed
that going from wet years to dry years, we'll have the fuel
buildup and grass buildup and some of the carryover that is not
used, not grazed, will go ahead and carry from 1 year to the
next, thus providing increased tonnage of fine fuels, which
then will carry the fire from brush to brush into the heavier
Not only are we seeing the short term effects of fuel
buildups, we're also seeing long-term effects, and these would
be fuels that would be the more woody to heavier type fuels
like Pinion Juniper that we have seen in large acreage's there,
and also of the sage community becoming more decadent or more
mature, instead of seeing a wide spectrum of aged groups,
Sagebrush, we're seeing mostly populations of the existing, of
the sagebrush that's left.
It is very mature, and those types of stands of sage are
not necessarily beneficial to wildlife. Wildlife require and
all species of the sagebrush require a full spectrum of ages
from juvenile stages of brush into the mature stages.
What we have seen also in a 30-year period of time is a
change in management decisions on the rangelands. I think it's
time that we need to review and reexamine some of those
Of course, the decisions were made over the years over a
concern for the wildlife and wildlife use of the resource; also
riparian values and native species values; those types of
concerns, those single issue concerns, are now what drives the
entire landscape decisions.
We see something for the concern of individual species such
as Sage Grouse drive the entire management of the landscape of
the Great Basin in general, but we also see it at a smaller
level, even Bitterbrush recovery after a burn is something that
drives the management and the rehabilitation of an area,
instead of looking at the broader view and because of that
negligence and looking at the fuel's buildup, we have a greater
potential for fire and a reburn in the same area. We all know
that that gives us the potential for Cheatgrass buildup, and if
we have burns within a 10-year period of time on the same
landscape, our chances of Cheatgrass infestation are multiplied
If we have this Cheatgrass invasion and we have multiple
burns in the areas the consequences become irreversible. It
becomes almost impossible for perennials to come back in and
especially for the woody species with all of those perennials
are almost excluded entirely.
In the past, we have seen most of our fires occur on the
valley floors, at lower elevations, and that's where we see the
Cheatgrass, the Cheatgrass problem. With climate change we see
the potential for Cheatgrass prone areas to increase further up
the elevation scale on a mountainside.
Currently, I think one of our biggest concerns is for the
areas that have not yet burned. That is our main concern. Let's
save what we have just in the natural habitat of the Great
We're starting to see huge fires, very intense fires at
higher elevations. The very best habitat that the Great Basin
has to offer is what we're now seeing burn and go up in smoke.
Not only good habitat for wildlife, but for all creatures,
both domestic and wild, those are the areas that are our very
best livestock grazing that we live in harmony with the
These extreme behaviors that we see in these fires in the
upper elevations are because of the huge woody buildup of an
accumulation of those types of fuels. Our contention is, as
livestock producers and as resource users, we think that
because of concern for a single issue and management for a
single issue raises a potential to have a catastrophic fire
that will eliminate those types of values we all hold dear, and
what's bad for the habitat for wildlife is also bad for the
We will not be profitable, we will not be sustainable if we
lose our resources, and that's a common resource that we share
with wildlife and with other users of the public land. We are
strong believers in multiple use. We believe that these types
of fires do not make hunters happy, other recreationists,
conversationists and land managers cannot be happy with what
we're seeing and with what's happening now currently within the
In my written testimony, I had a long list of negative
impacts to communities and to the resource, and rather than go
through those I'd like to spend just a moment to talk a little
bit about potential solutions as we see it from producers out
on the landscape.
I think we need to see an equal priority given to fuels
Fuel management, forage management, both fine and heavy
fuel, has to have an equal priority in land management
decisions along with endangered species, along with riparian
values, along with all of those values that we hold dear--we
need to broaden our view of what's happening within the
watershed, and so that prioritization of fuels buildup needs to
be--is essential to the solution.
Prescriptive management of fuels, and as a livestock
producer we see grazing as an absolute essential tool in the
overall management of fuels. We would not be as bold to say
that grazing can eliminate the potential for fire; that's
But fires burn very differently on areas that are grazed as
opposed to those that are not. They burn cooler, they have less
tendency to destroy the crown of the bunchgrass, or the--we'll
see skeletons of brush and other shrubs that remain after the
fire goes through in areas that have had proper grazing along
the way, well-managed grazing and that's what we're looking
for, something that does not devastate what areas we already
have. Soil stabilization to us is the most critical portion of
the rehab in areas that have already burned.
I'm encouraged to hear that through innovation and
cultivars of grasses that the native species of grasses have
the potential to essentially out-compete the Cheatgrass
infestation. Unfortunately, at this point on a large scale that
has not been the case.
I think partially because total number of grasses that are
out there and the number of available tons of seed that are
required, we have huge areas, is just not available. So it's
essential in that soil stabilization that we work toward using
some non-native species if necessary to stabilize that soil;
therefore giving us the microenvironment over a period of time
that will allow the woody species to come back in.
I think my last point is that well managed grazing is an
Let's address that. When we remove anywhere from 400 to 800
pounds of forage per acre, that's going to make a big
difference in how a fire burns and moves through an area, and
we feel that along with that prescriptive management of fuels,
whether it's mechanical, or cool season burns, is something
that has not been used. That particular tool has been underused
because of regulatory and/or litigation concerns and protests
in land management decisions.
We feel those burns are less likely to destroy the soil and
the existing plant community, whereas these hot seasons, high
intensity burns that we're experiencing now and in the middle
of summer are very devastating to the basic plant community.
Also, research is being done at UNR'S--University of Nevada
Reno's experimental station and extension service are working
with ways to reduce the amount of--or the impacts of Cheatgrass
infestation, both in early season grazing and also something
that we have never really tried much in the past, late season
grazing after the seed falls off of the plant, it then becomes
something that's a little more palatable to use, and with
proper supplementation cattle can reduce the carryover of fuel
into the next season.
As we said earlier, it's predictable when we have two or
three wet years, we will then have the dry--an inevitable dry
season will come along, we'll have a dry lightning, low
humidities and massive fires like we had last year.
I think if we can reduce that carryover that we can perhaps
slow some of that action down. I think the most important thing
is that we become, as has been said many times earlier today we
need to be proactive.
We need to be preemptive; we need to be working toward a
solution to the problem out there. We need the flexibilites at
the district level of our land use agencies to be able to deal
with these problems, and that's something that we've lost is
that flexibility to make those decisions at the management
[The prepared statement of Mr. Spratling follows:]
Prepared Statement of Boyd Spratling, President, Nevada Cattlemen's
Association, Elko, NV
The following discussion embodies the ranching industry's views
regarding the relatively recent increase of catastrophic rangeland fire
in the Great Basin and throughout the West. First and foremost, we
agree that the causes of wildfire are extremely complex, but there are
rather predictable consequences. The recent fire events, beginning in
1999 followed previous seasons of normal or above-normal precipitation.
The results were substantial heavy growth and production. When fuels
are allowed to build up and carry over through multiple years, and the
inevitable dry summer follows, the stage is set for extreme fire
potential. These accumulated grass-based fine fuels serve as a ladder
to carry the flame between larger brush and shrubs. The fuel situation
is multiplied by a reduced manipulation of heavier woody plants. Un-
impacted, late seral stage decadent brush and expanding stands of
Pinion Juniper have been allowed to increase in acreage, because of
concern for dependent wildlife. In reality, sage grouse and mule deer
require a mosaic of brush, with a full spectrum of seral stages.
Juvenile sage is even more important than extremely mature sage. This
variety of habitat is necessary from a landscape perspective.
Climate change has the potential to move the cheat grass-prone
environment to higher elevations. Currently, these elevations have a
higher precipitation potential and a greater probability of natural
release and recovery to a pre-fire state. The tons of particulate
matter, carbon dioxide and other gases released into the air during a
fire are incalculable, and dust/ash storms during the following months
degrade our fabled Nevada blue skies to a hazy brown. These
environmental insults only worsen the potential for future climate
We have watched our lower elevation valley floors burn, only to see
invasive cheat grass replace what were once perennial bunch grasses,
sage and other shrubs. The scenario was then set for repetitive short-
cycle fires that easily burn through the early maturing, highly
flammable monoculture stands of cheat grass. Once established, cheat
grass stands are very difficult to rehabilitate back to perennial grass
and brush that are home to the wildlife native to the Great Basin.
Additionally, the renewable grazing resource is altered, perhaps
irrevocably, for a family-based industry that depends upon both public
and private rangelands throughout the West.
Our concern has shifted somewhat. In the last few years, we have
seen catastrophic, high-intensity, enormous acreage firestorms in our
higher elevation prime rangelands. These are the finest examples of
Great Basin landscape and habitat for all manner of animals, both wild
and domestic. These types of fires exhibit behavior so extreme that if
winds are added, safe fire suppression is impossible. It is difficult
to find a location to make a stand.
Over the last thirty years, the trend has been to reduce impacts to
the land. Regulatory actions have decreased the number of AUM's
permitted on public lands, and actions to manipulate heavy fuels or
break up landscapes with green strips have been hampered, often due to
litigation. Of concern is the tendency for single issues to drive the
entire management of a given watershed. These issues vary from post-
fire regeneration and rehabilitation, to endangered species recovery,
to bitterbrush and aspen growth or concerns over riparian health. We in
the livestock industry agree that these are all very worthy, but forage
and fuel management have been ignored to the extent that catastrophic
fire totally wipes out all of the above listed values.
Below is a short list of negatives resulting from wildfire:
Soil erosion (wind and water)
Reduction of moisture absorption (huge fires can affect
entire watershed functionality)
Reduce feed and cover for all wildlife
Degradation of air and water quality, both short and long
Degradation of viewscape
Introduction of invasive weeds (cheat grass, thistle)
Reduction of livestock grazing
Displacement and economic strain on rangeland-dependent
Extreme cost of rehabilitation
Prolonged time interval to get back to growth of woody
Changes in watershed that increase the frequency of fire
Reduction of other multiple uses on public land (hunting,
Reduced ability to sustain appropriate number of wild horses
Forage build-up and fuel management must be placed at an
equal priority with other management issues. If it is ignored
further, we will set back hard-earned landscape improvements by
Another principle we advocate is continuing prescriptive
management of heavy fuels, such as Pinion Juniper or decadent
stands of sagebrush. When fire reaches such stands, the flame
length, heat and intensity increase dramatically. Firefighters
can only work the flanks of such fire, because safety becomes a
major concern. Some fear that sagebrush might be eliminated,
and that is simply untrue. Breaking up these stands with plants
of various seral stages and with fire-resistant grasses and
forbs would not only provide locations to stop the fire, but
would also be of major benefit to a variety of wildlife.
Perhaps the most critical tool is the stabilization of the
soil following a burn. Many native species have been
unsuccessful at out-competing cheat grass infestation. Resource
management professionals contend that some cultivars of native
grasses are being developed to do a much better job. That being
said, the simple truth is that non-native bunch grasses have a
much better opportunity of success. The bottom line is that
stabilization and out-competing of cheat grass is absolutely
the most important approach we can take in this endeavor. If
the goal is to eventually have some shrubs and brush, then
aggressive perennial grass re-establishment is the critical
first step. Many complain that such seeding only provides
livestock feed, and that is most certainly a true assertion on
the part of our critics. It just happens that such perennial,
non-native grasses also give us the best opportunity to salvage
our treasured landscape.
Well-managed livestock grazing plays a major role in fuels
management and healthy ranges. Grazing will not eliminate fire,
but it will, absolutely, alter the fire activity and behavior.
Fires where livestock have removed 400 to 800 lbs. of grass per
acre will burn with much lower intensity and speed. One will
observe large islands and fingers of unburned surface. Also,
skeletons of burned brush and crowns of bunch grasses remain
intact, and they have a much higher potential for rapid
recovery, even without expensive rehab efforts.
Grazing also aids in control of cheat grass-prone areas.
Very early season grazing can reduce cheat grass production,
thus allowing an opportunity for the reestablishment of
perennials. New grazing innovations are being tested to promote
very late-season cheat grass grazing to assist in reduction of
carryover of fuels into the next season. Flexibility must be
given to land managers to allow grazing for this specific
In short, grazing plays an important role in both fire pre-
suppression and post-fire rehabilitation.
Senator Wyden. I thank you all very much, and the Senate
majority leader is going to have to go in a few minutes, and I
want to have him make a closing statement and just as we go,
Ms. Mulroy, tell us, so we have it for the record, the Senate
Majority Leader feels strongly on this point, what are the
Colorado River managers doing about climate change?
Ms. Mulroy. There are--obviously, it's not a holistic
group, but at this point I think we have come a long way to
begin to look very differently at this river system.
We have to adapt, that's the point that we're at right now.
Now, however, at a--on a larger scale there is a group of
the largest municipal agencies in the country that are
coalescing around the issue of climate change.
They include New York, they include David Schaff from
Portland, they include Seattle, San Francisco, Southern
California, and all of us are looking at a three-pronged attack
and reaction to what we're seeing emerge in climate change.
It is both from the adaptive level on promoting the
necessary science to give us the tools that we need in order to
manage around these water resources, and finally, it is to help
be a part of the solution and begin mitigating our own impact
on the environment.
Senator Wyden. Thank you.
I think we can have the Senate majority leader for maybe
ten more minutes or whatever his schedule will allow.
I'd very much like to have him make a closing statement.
Can we have the Senate majority leader come forward?
Senator Reid. Mr. Chairman, for me this has been very
What we've heard from every witness, we hear from the
Bureau of Land Management, we hear from the Geological Survey,
we hear from the General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water
Authority, we hear from our two cattlemen, basically; they
don't have enough resources to do their job. They're all very
kind, they don't want to get in trouble with their bosses, but
that's what it all amounts to and you did everything you could
to draw this out and they were afraid to say anything because
they go back to their bosses and get in trouble. The fact is,
you know Eastern Oregon is just like Northern Nevada.
Everyone thinks of Oregon as the great Pacific Ocean, but
much of your State is just like our State, and we have the BLM
that is terribly understaffed, the Geological Survey, terribly
understaffed. Not only do they not have a constant flow of
money that you talked about often, they don't know sometimes
from month-to-month what they're going to be able to do.
Senator Wyden. I think the Senate majority leader's
microphone just went dead. Perhaps we can have that fixed. Go
ahead, Mr. Reid.
Senator Reid. They are worried from month-to-month, are
they going to have to lay people off, literally, and I was very
impressed with Doctor Belnap.
She said we can handle this problem, but what she didn't
say is it's going to take a lot more resources, and if we stop
and think what's going on in our country, what our priorities
are, this land is my land, this land is your land. We're
spending 2.3 billion dollars of borrowed money every week in
Iraq. 2.3 billion dollars for a spec of, a couple--one day--if
we could get 1 day of the money that is spent in Iraq we could
solve the problems, or at least in the foreseeable future have
an indication of what we need to do.
Mr. Chairman, you have fought for, you have counties in
Oregon that survive on the money that they get from the Federal
Government. In fact--it's a fact of life. We've got these great
counties in Oregon that depended on cutting down trees, and
that's how they survive. That is not--it's not there any more.
We have--you have led the charge, but we've had, Western
Senators, fighting for little dribs of money, so payment in
lieu of taxes could get what we're supposed to get because of
the Federal presence we have in these counties throughout the
west, and we're not getting it.
We are not focusing attention where we need to focus
attention. What we're talking about as these two I refer to
cowboys, these two people who depend on rangelands for their
existence; what they're saying is that this is a long-term
problem, and we don't have a long-term solution that is
meaningful. We need to do a lot more planning as Doctor Belnap
said. Mike Pellant said it very clearly, that their programs
work, but they don't have any money.
So, Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for being here today.
This has been, for me, a real revelation. I guess ignorance is
bliss. Sometimes you feel better not knowing what's really
going on, but for me a picture is painted here today of the
disaster we have facing us, and we're doing nothing about it--I
shouldn't say nothing--but we're doing very limited attacks
here, and we have the people to do it, we have the expertise to
do it and we need to make sure that these people have the
resources they need including more personnel.
Senator Wyden. Mr. Leader, I want you to know that you lead
this charge, I will help in any way I can. I think you summed
it up. It's appropriate to wrap up with your words.
This really comes down to choices. It comes down to
choices. It comes down to values, it comes down to what we care
about, 300 million dollars a day for the war in Iraq, as you
said, you addressed about the critical needs here in the west.
Senator Reid. My favorite punching bag I've had lately has
been coal. I can't leave here without saying something about
Mr. Chairman, we have a county called White Pine County in
Nevada. It's a large county area-wise, beautiful. Do you
remember John Syburn that we served with in the house?
Senator Wyden. Yes.
Senator Reid. He in the House had your same position. He
was chairman of this subcommittee. Frankly, he hated Nevada. It
was gambling, prostitution and bombs being set off here.
He came from a family of wealth. The entire--money that he
inherited. He came to Nevada and we spent days traveling around
looking at potential Forest Service wilderness. We had our
final meeting in Washoe County in Northern Nevada, and he said,
``I'm a convert. I've come to love Nevada because we have these
wide open spaces,'' and back to White Pine County, we have
vistas in White Pine County that you can see for more than a
Nevada is the most mountainous State in the union except
for Alaska, we have 314 separate mountain ranges, and White
Pine County is a place of beauty, pristine air, and the
regulated monopoly we have in Nevada wants to build power
plants in the middle of this pristine land and build on the
first--and burn in the first phase, the first year they will
get this done, if they get it done, which I'll do everything I
can to stop it, they will burn seven million tons of coal. One
year. Three years, 21 million tons of coal. They say, ``We want
clean coal technology.'' None exists, they have cleaner coal
So one of my visions in my political career is to do
something to protect those pristine areas, and we've been able
to do it with Forest Service wilderness and we've done some
Bureau of Land Management wilderness.
We have an obligation to protect these beautiful areas, and
what has created all of the problems that we're talking about
today? We've beaten around the bush, talking about global
warming is here, but why is it here? Because we're burning--
we're using 21 million barrels of oil every day; every day.
Hundreds of millions of tons of coal.
We've got to stop that. That's the only way it's going to
happen, so that we use alternative energy, that stuff that's up
there every day; the sun shines every day, especially in
Nevada, the wind blows every day in Nevada. We have geothermal;
we have the Saudia Arabia geothermal energy, and we haven't
talked about that today. That's going to help the cowboys, it's
going to help casinos, the hotels; it's going to help your
ranchers; it's going to help us all.
Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for--and I have to
mention this--Ron and I've known each other all of these years.
Ron within 2 weeks is going to be a new father. He is having--
he isn't--but his wonderful wife, Nancy, is having twin, twin
babies, in about 2 weeks, isn't that right?
Senator Wyden. Exactly.
Senator Reid. Thank you.
Senator Wyden. Thank you for all of your friendship, Mr.
Leader. God speed.
Let us briefly bring our witnesses back. Then I just had a
couple of questions and then we can excuse everyone.
Ms. Mulroy, Mr. Nichols, and Doctor Spratling, we'll have
you up for just a couple more minutes.
Dan, just by way of a question for you. If nothing changes,
we sort of stay in place with what we have, what do we have to
do to the agricultural economy in your community? You're pretty
much flattened, aren't you?
Mr. Nichols. Yes, we're basically in a--at the exponential
rate it's growing, unless something is done to curb it, evade
it, upper management techniques, we're basically done. How long
that will be, who knows?
As I indicated, the Medusahead promotes fire and fire
It is absolutely a monoculture that nothing else can
compete with, it's a devastating weed. If it isn't brought
under control, we're going to be done.
Senator Wyden. It's going to turn the lights out on this
part of Oregon, right?
Mr. Nichols. Lifestyle, wildlife, hydrology, riparian
areas, this noxious weed has an impact on absolutely
Senator Wyden. The same question essentially for you,
Doctor Spratling the challenge is a little bit different, but
in terms of native species and wildfires.
If people don't wake up and do the kind of aggressive
proactive work that the majority leader's talking about, won't
this have devastating effects on the people you represent?
Mr. Spratling. I would agree wholeheartedly.
The inaction and hands-off policy is absolutely the worst
thing that we can do; inaction is not the correct way to go.
We've got to proactively go down that road, deal with these
resource problems that not only affects the economies, but, you
know, there's a lot of values, all the other values that we
hold dear are all at risk by doing that.
Senator Wyden. Ms. Mulroy, the last word is for you.
I'm glad to hear that the Colorado River, you know,
managers, are getting into this, with the coalition of leaders
around the country, but I hope the effort will accelerate.
I think that what we've heard, we've heard today, is that
this is a now pull out stops kind of time, because if we don't
use this, this period, we're going to have damage that will be
irreversible, and I want to give you the last word.
Do you have anything that you would like to add as we wrap
Ms. Mulroy. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I do agree that there's probably no more compelling issue,
at least from where I sit, than to address the issues that
everybody here talked about, and that includes also issues on
water resources because I think we've only scratched the
surface to see what the consequences are going to be on western
water resources, whether it's rising oceans that turn the
Sacramento Delta into a wasteland of sea water or whatever
those consequences are as they manifest themselves in the west,
but I'm completely convinced this is the most compelling issue
facing the Western United States in this century.
Senator Wyden. It is, and what we've got to do, is we've
got to get people to act quickly. So often we see it in
Washington, time is spent in sort of partisan, you know,
bickerfests. I think you lose the Basin, you lose some of these
treasurers. People aren't going to talk about democrats and
republicans and say, ``How did you let it happen?''
So you three have been very good. I particularly appreciate
the coalition building efforts of rural folks, of Dan, you,
Doctor Spratling, and at home or all these ranchers and cattle
folks reach out to the environmental scientists, and others,
and that's, of course, that's how you get it done that's how
you are building support for the health program and secure
rural schools program, and we don't have the total question
solved, but we have the coalition, so with that, it's been a
terrific hearing from the subcommittee, it gives us more work
to do and more work seems to be done quickly.
With that, the subcommittee is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 11:50 a.m., the hearing was adjourned.]
Responses to Additional Questions
Statement of Dennis Ghiglieri, Conservation Chair, Sierra Club, Reno,
These comments are submitted on behalf of the 5,500 members of the
Toiyabe Chapter in Nevada and eastern California. One of the most
significant threats to the Great Basin is the potential loss of its
precious water. Unfortunately, this issue was not addressed by the
Committee during the hearing.
Southern Nevada's break-neck growth has lead its water agency, the
Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), to propose pumping 200,000
acre-feet annually from desert valleys in eastern Nevada and sending
the water to the Las Vegas Metropolis. Likewise, the Clark County and
Lincoln County Commissions have approved a huge city 53 miles north-
east of Las Vegas of more than 150,000 people. The new city is designed
around numerous golf courses with plans to import water from further
north and pump goundwater within Coyote Springs Valley. Mesquite,
Nevada plans groundwater imports to fuel its housing growth. Much of
the pumping and export pipelines and facilities will take place on
public lands and seriously impact public lands throughout eastern
Nevada negatively impacting rural communities and springs, wetlands,
streams, and desert plants and animals.
Congress should immediately fund scientific studies on the
groundwater systems of Nevada, western Utah, and eastern California to
fully assess the potential for environmental and surface water impacts
of the massive groundwater development proposed.
Current scientific knowledge tells us that the groundwater of
eastern and southern Nevada, western Utah, and eastern California are
linked hydrologically. Groundwater development will undoubtedly change
this existing, stable hydrology. Congress should require that states
develop agreements through an open public process, including
establishing the baseline conditions as well as protection of surface
water rights upon which rural communities and plants and animals depend
before any groundwater development occurs or pipelines are constructed
on public lands.
The threat of global warming is chilling for all of the southwest
because reduced precipitation in an already dry area appears to be
likely. Drought in this region hits not only the Colorado River, but
eastern and southern Nevada, western Utah, and eastern California at
the same time frequently. Congress needs to be much more proactive and
require the 7 Colorado River States to meet standards for water
conservation and efficiency. The Colorado River is stretched to the
breaking point and demands from development leave the environment
damaged and broken throughout the region. Congress has taken a ``hands-
off'' approach but that will likely lead to increasing environmental
damage and contention among the States. Instead a basin-wide water
management plan with built-in environmental protection and mitigations
needs to be developed to address present day water shortfalls and those
which can be anticipated in the coming years.
Thank you for this opportunity to comment.
Statement of Kenneth Hill, Wendover, UT
The 11 Oct 2007 Las Vegas field hearing of the Senate Subcommittee
on Public Lands and Forests covered a lot of important topics: invasive
species, drought, wildfire, and climate change.
But one topic was missing: interbasin water transfer proposals,
including the Southern Nevada Water Authority's proposal to pump and
export 200,000 acre-feet of groundwater from rural Nevada and Utah for
uncontrolled growth in southern Nevada.
Snake Valley, shared by Utah and Nevada, is particularly prone to
wind and dust storms. These are likely to increase due to climate
change as ground cover continues to die. If massive quantities of water
are pumped and exported from this area it could be another Owens Valley
with dangerous, unhealthy air quality.
Likewise, springs already are drying up at alarming rates
throughout Snake Valley because of the drought. The SNWA water export
scheme certainly will hasten this trend, endangering the delicate
balance of biodiversity in the ecosystem here.
Massive water exportation from fragile desert basins is not
sustainable and cannot be seen as a long-term solution for supplying
water to urban areas like Las Vegas. By the time impacts develop they
may be irreversible. Aggressive conservation is necessary. Las Vegas is
well above other southwestern cities in per capita water use and has a
long way to improve. Southern Nevada should be required to achieve
consumption rates more like those of Tucson before dessication of rural
valleys is permitted.
There is insufficient scientific data upon which to base decisions
to authorize the SNWA water exportation plan. The recent BARCASS draft
report did not study impacts of the proposal. A follow up study is
needed before any decisions are made.
Require the Colorado River states to meet standards for
water conservation and efficiency.
Require the Colorado River states to develop region-wide
water management plans with built-in environmental protection
Require western states to develop compacts on shared
groundwater, including protection of community health and
environmental resources through open and full public processes.
Mandate and fund scientific studies by the USGS on
groundwater exportation proposals (particularly the SNWA
proposal in eastern Nevada and western Utah) to analyze
potential impacts to the environment and local stake holders.
Statement of Abigail Johnson, Baker, NV
THREAT: Global warming is already exacerbating droughts and
resulting in water shortages in the West. Groundwater is not available
on a sustainable basis for massive interbasin water projects, like the
Las Vegas water grab. Yet, SNWA is not seriously developing water
supply options, including increasing water conservation or acquiring
additional Colorado River supplies, nor pursuing desalination.
SOLUTION: The US Congress should require the 7 Colorado River states to
meet standards for water conservation and efficiency and to develop a
basin-wide water management plan with built-in environmental protection
THREAT: The Nevada water grab may have direct serious negative
environmental impacts in many other western states, including Utah,
Arizona, and California. SOLUTION: The US Congress should require
states to develop compacts on shared groundwater, including protection
of environmental resources and community health through a full and open
public process before ratification by Congress.
THREAT: There is insufficient scientific information on Western
groundwater and on the environmental impacts of groundwater development
and transfer. SOLUTION: The US Congress should mandate and fund
scientific studies by the USGS on groundwater systems shared by states
and the potential environmental and other impacts of groundwater
development and transfer.
A major threat to the Great Basin is water mining such as is
planned by the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Removing water without
replacement threatens a large variety of plant and animal species,
local economies (tourism, hunting, fishing, outdoor recreation,
The body of science, though not complete, points to widespread and
devastating effects of groundwater mining in already fragile and
drought prone environments. Please make the following part of the
hearing record as part of my comments:
--``Fueling Population Growth in Las Vegas: How Large-scale
Groundwater Withdrawal Could Burn Regional Biodiversity''
JAMES E. DEACON, AUSTIN E. WILLIAMS, CINDY DEACON WILLIAMS,
AND JACK E. WILLIAMS, 688 BioScience, September 2007 / Vol.
57 No. 8 www.biosciencemag.org
--Effects Of Interbasin Water Transport on Ecosystems Of Spring
Valley, White Pine County, Nevada'', 24 June 2006, David
Charlet, Ph.D. Professor of Biology, Community College
Southern Nevada, Henderson NV 89015.
--``Gambling on the Water Table, The High-Stakes Implications of
the Las Vegas Pipeline For Plants, Animals, Places and
People'', Defenders of Wildlife & The Great Basin Water
Network, October, 2007.''
--``BARCASS I:--Basin and Range Carbonate Aquifer System Study'',
USGS, June, 2007. Of particular note here are the new
findings regarding the inter-connectivity of basins
suggesting that extracting groundwater from an aquifer
upstream will affect those basins downstream. The multiple
effects of pumping will affect negatively large areas of
the Great Basin.
Thank you for considering my comments.
Statement of the Forest Service, Department of Agriculture
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the
opportunity to submit a written statement on the environmental threats
to the Great Basin. The Forest Service is concerned about the rate at
which invasive species are spreading and about increasing occurrence of
severe wildfires across the Great Basin. In recent years, we have
observed that wildfires are increasing in size and intensity, and that
invasive species, especially cheatgrass, are expanding at a rapid rate
in the Basin. Extended drought and increasing temperatures have
exacerbated these changes. We also have observed declining snowpacks
and other changing patterns of precipitation and runoff which increase
the complexity of managing an already limited water resource. These
environmental threats are affecting the health and the use of the
Basin's environmental resources. The agency is working in partnership
with others to address these challenges and to stem the tide of
negative impacts on wildlife habitat and other uses of the land
including livestock grazing and recreation.
The Forest Service manages 32 million acres of forest and
rangelands across the Great Basin. These National Forest System lands
intermingle with Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and private lands. The
region is characterized by north-south trending mountain ranges
separated by wide valley basins. In general, the basin portion of the
Great Basin is in private ownership or managed by the BLM. The Forest
Service primarily manages areas adjacent to these broad valleys. Large
portions of the Basin are currently dominated by pinyon and juniper
forests, but were historically sagebrush grasslands that were
maintained by fires that occurred naturally across the Great Basin
desert. In addition, the Great Basin desert has been invaded by
cheatgrass, an annual grass introduced from Eurasia, which forms a
dense carpet of easily ignitable dry fuel.
wildland fire and weeds
The fires of 2007 have brought to the forefront the issues of
widespread wildfire and its implications for the environment in the
Great Basin. Forest and grassland fuels across the Great Basin are
extremely dry because of low winter snowpacks, below normal spring
rains, very hot and dry summer weather, and increased vegetation stress
and mortality from drought, disease and insects. Historically, fires in
the sagebrush grasslands of the Great Basin occurred every 30 to 100
years. This fire frequency maintained the native sagebrush grasslands.
Today, fire maintains cheatgrass, an invasive winter annual that
germinates early, often under snow cover, and competes with the native
grasses, shrubs, and wildflowers. With cheatgrass dominance, fire
frequency has increased to approximately every 3 to 5 years. The shift
of these ecosystems from diverse shrub-grass plant communities to near
monocultures of annual grass can modify their structure and function.
Cheatgrass, because of its annual nature and its shallow rooting
system, does not protect the soils from erosion as well as the
perennial, deeply rooted, native species. Additionally, erosion
threatens the productivity of the land (removing the more productive
topsoil) and water quality. If these shortened wildfire cycles are left
unchecked, weed species, even more damaging than cheatgrass, may
establish. In addition, areas dominated with invasive species, like
cheatgrass and medusahead, are highly flammable and are very
susceptible to frequent reburn, making it even more difficult to
restore these landscapes.
climate change, invasive species, and ecosystem and economic resilience
The ultimate role of climate change in the Great Basin is not
completely understood today. The Forest Service is conducting research
on the effects of climate change, but more needs to be learned. Some
climate change models predict significant temperature increases by the
end of the century, as well as increases in carbon dioxide levels.
Precipitation models, while less robust, predict a slight increase in
winter and decrease in summer precipitation. An important consequence
of the simplification of Great Basin ecosystems through the loss of
species diversity (e.g., replacement of native species by monocultures
of invasive species) may be rangelands that are less resilient to
effects of climate change and wildfire.
Shifts away from ecosystem complexity may also impact economic
resources through loss of forage abundance for wildlife and livestock.
Ranching as well as various outdoor activities are major components of
rural economies within the Great Basin. As areas are unavailable for
grazing as a result of wildfires, or as grazing seasons are shortened
because of decreased forage abundance (annuals tend to produce less
forage and mature earlier in the growing season), the effects may be
economically detrimental to ranching operations and counties that
depend on these forage resources.
working to address invasive species
The Forest Service is treating the land and working with others to
help address these environmental issues within the Great Basin. One
approach we are expanding is the use of targeted grazing. The Forest
Service is using targeted grazing as a tool to control fuel levels by
managing invasive species. The Forest Service is working with the
American Sheep Industry (ASI) and the National Cattlemen's Beef
Association (NCBA) to develop additional opportunities for effective
landscape scale treatments. ASI has recently published the manual
Targeted Grazing: A natural approach to vegetation management and
landscape enhancement. Currently ASI, NCBA and the Forest Service are
coordinating an effort to train land managers and livestock operators
on the tools presented in this manual. The ability to increase the use
of targeted grazing dramatically to achieve landscape scale treatments
for both invasive species and fuels control has the potential to affect
the landscape in the Great Basin.
The approaches being used include:
In small areas, use of early season grazing by livestock on
cheatgrass-infested landscapes as a part of ecosystem
restoration to reduce or destroy cheatgrass to make reseeding
projects more effective.
Use of livestock to create fuel breaks surrounding
communities at risk from wildland fires.
Use of targeted grazing to maintain or improve habitat
characteristics desirable for selected wildlife species.
Use of goats to limit woody plant dominance, such as young
One example of targeted grazing is on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National
Forest. Sheep flocks have been used to help reduce fuel accumulation on
hillsides in early spring. Also, targeted grazing projects are being
observed in the field to be successful across the region to manage and
reduce fuels before the fire season, potentially helping to reduce
catastrophic fires, and to slow the spread of invasive annual grasses
that are destroying native ecosystems.
other efforts to address environmental threats in the great basin
The Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) is
conducting research specifically related to Great Basin ecosystems and
to climate change. The RMRS Ecology, Paleoecology and Restoration of
Great Basin Watersheds Research Work Unit located on the campus of the
University of Nevada Reno is focused on: 1) expansion of pinyon-juniper
woodlands and the consequences for fire regimes and fire management; 2)
susceptibility of sagebrush ecosystems to invasive plant and management
options for control of plant invasions; and 3) effects of ongoing
climate change on Great Basin ecosystems. In addition, RMRS is involved
in research on the effects of climate change on forest and rangeland
resources and research on metrics for ecosystem health.
The Forest Service is also involved in other research projects
focusing on issues within the Great Basin such as the ongoing Joint
Fire Sciences Program SageSTEP (Sagebrush Steppe Treatment Evaluation
Project). SageSTEP is developing a basic understanding of the causes
and effects of tree expansion and of increasing tree densities and
cheatgrass invasion on sagebrush ecosystems and associated pinyon-
juniper woodlands. Results will be used to devise techniques for
restoring and maintaining sustainable sagebrush ecosystems and pinyon-
juniper woodlands. Techniques being evaluated by this project include
the use of prescribed fire as a restoration tool and the identification
of plant species and seeding methods for restoring native communities.
Other collaborative research efforts supported by the Joint Fire
Sciences Program that are specific to the Great Basin focus on the
ecological response of watersheds, experiencing tree colonization, to
the use of prescribed fire and mechanical treatments to control tree
The Governors of Nevada, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming are in the
process of signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) concerning fuels
management and wildland fire rehabilitation and reseeding. They have
pledged to work together to counter the adverse effects of fire,
invasive species and other disruptive changes in vegetation conditions.
We expect the States will formally request the support and cooperation
of the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in rehabilitating
lands in the Basin. The Forest Service is actively engaged in wildfire
restoration and works with the States and private landowners to
rehabilitate lands burned by wildfire.
The Forest Service has a long history of combating invasive species
in the Great Basin. We have fostered and worked with cooperative weed
management areas (CWMA) over most of the Basin. These groups include
all landowners in an area, working together to manage invasive weed
species across the landscape. We will continue to work with CWMAs using
their experience and expertise to combat the spread of invasive species
Thank you for the opportunity to provide this Statement. Please
submit any questions you may have to the Chief of the Forest Service.
Statement of Rupert Steele, Chairman, Confederated Tribes of the
Goshute Indian Reservation
My name is Rupert Steele, Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of
the Goshute Indian Reservation. The reservation is located in Eastern
Nevada and Western Utah, approximately one-half of the reservation is
located in Nevada and one-half is located in Utah.
I write to you today to express my concerns about effects of the
proposed large volume of pumping of water from the Snake Valley in Utah
and from the Spring Valley in Nevada. The Great Basin is a desert and
pumping water will have grave effects on the region because there is a
lack of adequate river or large streams that would provide recharge to
the regional water system. Once the water is in the pipeline, I don't
see anyone closing the valves or shutting down the pumps when the water
table is lowered. The pumps will be allowed to operate until they burn
out from the lack of water. This could happen the next day, the next
week, the next month, or the next year because no one knows how much
water is beneath the ground, however there are many assumptions and it
is not a good practice and it is impossible to make high-quality
decision based on assumptions.
The Goshute Indian Reservation is located between the two valleys.
The water source for the reservation is provided by the precipitation
run-off from the Deep Creek Range.
I am deeply troubled by the Basin and Range Carbonate Acquifer
Study (BARCASS) because the Goshute Indian Reservation was not a part
of the study, although the reservation is located between the two
valleys and adjacent to the proposed pumping well/s. The Goshute Tribe
adopted a Tribal Resolution opposing the project.
The Goshute Tribal economy is funded from revenue derived from the
management of the natural resources. The funds are used to operate
various programs to serve Tribal members and the Ibapah community. The
Tribal economy is wholly dependent on the water system on the Goshute
Indian Reservation. Large volume of water pumping will deplete the
ground water storage, reduce the stream flows, greatly decrease and
eliminate ground water-dependent ecosystems, increase saltwater
intrusion, and have adverse changes in ground water quality. The
depletion, disruption, and ultimately contamination of the ground water
resources will have severe consequences on the reservation livelihood
and will have irreparable damage and injury to local and adjacent
hydrological and environmental systems.
I know that the surface water, the groundwater, and the deep water
aquifers are interconnected and interdependent in almost all
ecosystems. Ground water plays significant roles in sustaining the
flow, chemistry, and temperature of streams, lakes, springs, wetlands,
and cave systems on the Goshute Indian Reservation and adjacent
adjoining valleys. Surface waters provide recharge to ground water.
Ground water has a major influence on rock weathering, streambank
erosion, and the headward progression of stream channels. In rough
steep terrain, it governs slope stability; in flat terrain, it limits
soil compaction and land subsidence.
Large volume of ground water pumping will reduce or eliminate
discharges to springs and to wetlands. It will eliminate the
sustainability of drinking-water supplies and maintenance of critical
ground water-dependent habitats.
Our livelihood and existence on the Goshute Indian Reservation is
in great jeopardy by the Southern Nevada Water Authority proposed
project. I don't intend to change who we are or change our tribal
identity because of the project. The Goshute Tribal land and water is
directly tied to the tribal identity and to our spiritual way of life.
I want to remind you that our Tribal sovereignty does not arise from
our treaty with the government but from our unique relationship with
Thank you for listening to my concerns.
Statement of Rose Strickland and Susan Lynn, Great Basin Water Network,
On behalf of the Great Basin Water Network, we are submitting
testimony for the record on the October 11, 2007 field hearing in Las
Vegas. The GBWN is an umbrella organization for groups and individuals
committed to careful assessment of water projects and their
environmental, social and economic consequences. Our mission is to
protect locally sustainable water uses, natural resources and the
public interest through coordination, communication, education,
research, science, litigation and advocacy for water in the extended
We thank you for holding a hearing in Nevada on threats to the
Great Basin in the next 100 years. We agree with the testimony of many
of the witnesses about the threats of worsening noxious weed invasions,
increasing wildfires in the Great Basin and Mojave deserts, longer and
more frequent droughts which are being exacerbated by climate change,
and the resulting negative impacts to the health of public rangelands
and fragile desert ecosystems.
The GBWN would like to bring to your attention the eminent threat
of massive interbasin water pumping and exportation proposals in Nevada
and neighboring states and their potential harmful environmental and
socioeconomic impacts on our rural and urban communities. In Nevada,
the Southern Nevada Water Authority, water speculators, and developers
are proposing to pump and move hundreds of thousands of acre feet of
water each year from rural Nevada to support growth and development in
urban areas. These massive water projects will result in the loss of
native vegetation as groundwater tables drop and native plants are
replaced by weeds or remain barren and subject to dustbowl conditions
which are still plaguing Owens Valley in eastern California. Local
economies based on livestock grazing, hunting and fishing and tourism
will be adversely affected by the loss of ecosystem health. (See
Gambling on the Water Table: The High-Stakes Implications of the Las
Vegas Pipeline For Plants, Animals, Places and People
www.defenders.org). Surface waters may also be impacted by groundwater
development projects (See Gone to the Well Once Too Often: The
Importance of Ground Water To Rivers in the West www.tu.org).
Scientific knowledge is lacking on both groundwater availability and
the extent of pumping impacts, although the dangers of such projects to
fragile desert ecosystems is well-known (See attached BIOSCIENCE
Plants are not considered a beneficial use under Nevada Water Law
and have no state protection. Federal environmental protection laws do
not extend to ecosystem health. Federal land and resource management
agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest
Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and
the US Fish and Wildlife Service have neither the direct mandate nor
the staff and resources to protect public resources from the impacts of
massive water transfers proposed in the Great Basin. In fact, the
federal agencies have been under Department of Interior direction to
settle their water protests of these transfer applications through
``stipulated agreements'' with water purveyors instead of participating
in State Engineer water hearings to defend public resources. The
meetings to develop these agreements are confidential and exclude any
We see the following threats and offer solutions for Congressional
1. THREAT: Global warming is already exacerbating droughts
and resulting in water shortages in the West. Groundwater is
not available on a sustainable basis for massive interbasin
water projects, like the one proposed by the Southern Nevada
Water Authority. Yet, SNWA is not seriously developing water
supply options, including increasing water conservation or
acquiring additional Colorado River supplies, nor pursuing
desalination nor recycling of used water. SOLUTION: The US
Congress should require the 7 Colorado River states to meet
standards for water conservation and efficiency and to develop
a basin-wide water management plan with built-in environmental
protection and mitigation.
2. THREAT: The Nevada groundwater development projects may
have direct serious negative environmental impacts in many
other western states, including Utah, Arizona, and California.
SOLUTION: The US Congress should require states to develop
compacts on shared groundwater, including protection of
environmental resources and community health through a full and
open public process before ratification by Congress.
3. THREAT: There is insufficient scientific information on
Western groundwater and on the environmental impacts of
groundwater development and transfer. SOLUTION: The US Congress
should mandate and fund scientific studies by the USGS on
groundwater systems shared by states and the potential
environmental and other impacts of groundwater development and
4. THREAT: Federal land and resource agencies do not have
sufficient budget or resources to protect public resources from
the impacts of groundwater projects. SOLUTION: The US Congress
should require federal agencies to diligently protect public
lands and resources from the impacts of groundwater projects
and provide adequate funding to carry out agency missions.
Thank you for considering our testimony.
Statement of Meghan Wereley, Nevada Cattlemen's Association,
grazing is part of the solution
The Nevada Cattlemen's Association is a member organization
dedicated to the preservation of ranches and rangelands in Nevada. The
association supports and represents ecological and environmentally
sustainable ranchers that operate on both private and public lands. As
an association we seek to create a stable business climate for our
members in which they can run these viable operations.
Over the past several years fire has played a large role in Nevada,
largely in the Great Basin ecosystem. The State of Nevada can be a
harsh environment for those who work the land. Cattlemen are
susceptible to wildfire on public and private grazing lands. When fire
moves through rangelands across the west vegetation communities change
from shrub dominated, to annual cheatgrass dominated landscapes. Not
only do the vegetation communities change, but the fire cycle
increases, habitat for wildlife is decreased, and forage for both
domestic livestock and wildlife is greatly reduced throughout the year.
Reducing fuels before the fire season using prescriptive grazing,
brush thinning, green strips, and spring grazing on already cheatgrass
dominated areas will help reduce the catastrophic fires that have moved
through Nevada over the past few summers.
Fire not only hurts the rancher during the fire, but for the years
after when the federal land is closed off. The recognition of the role
that fire plays in the lives of rural Nevadans has been greatly
overlooked and the association feels its time for that to change. The
Nevada Cattlemen's Association will continue to support pre-fire
management by ranchers and the federal land agencies as nothing
prevents wildland fires.
The Nevada Cattlemen's Association supports the rehab efforts on
burned landscapes as they directly effect soil stabilization, habitat/
forage for wildlife, and forage for livestock. However there are
several indirect impacts that seeded rehab efforts have on the
landscape including: increased litter and organic component of the soil
surface, competition with cheatgrass and/or other invasive species,
seeded bunch grasses help to slow down fires as the interspaces between
the plants break continuity of the fuel, and may help the plant
communities move from annual to perennial grass species eventually
leading to a shrub component on the site.
The Nevada Cattlemen's Association supports the reseeding of both
native and non-native grass species. The association supports non-
native grass species in rehab seed mix's because they are better able
to compete with cheatgrass and other invasive species, as well as being
drought tolerant, and less likely to carry fire. As the seeded species
reestablish native perennial grasses and shrubs will soon move in
creating greater diversity. Native species are hard to reseed and
compete poorly with invasive grasses such as cheatgrass.
In burned areas the first step should start with stabilization and
end with success. These rehab efforts are just the first step and are
implemented for resource reasons only. However, if we let these
reseeded areas continue to be ungrazed there could be vast negative
impacts on biodiversity, habitat, and forage.
The Nevada Cattlemen's Association understands that grazing is not
the only solution, but part of the overall picture of recovery; and
that working together to find solutions and implement known science in
our current land management will not only help recovery but prevent
University of Nevada Las Vegas,
Department of Environmental Studies and Biology,
October 11, 2007.
Hon. Ron Wyden,
Hon. Richard Burr,
304 Dirksen Senate Building, Washington, DC.
Dear Senators: Most major environmental threats to the Great Basin
in the 21st century cannot be understood nor addressed without
recognizing their relationship to groundwater development. In this, the
driest region of the US, wildlife, invasive species, wildfire, climate
change, economic development, sustainability, and livelihood of
residents, are all, to one degree or another, dependent on policies and
practices governing groundwater development. Because it is a limiting
resource, water is widely acknowledged to be a major cause of conflict
worldwide in this century. Nowhere is that more evident than here in
the desert Southwest.
Limitations of groundwater resources stimulated the US Geological
Survey to implement a Regional Aquifer-System Analysis (RASA) Project
over the last three decades of the 20th century. The Great Basin
Aquifer in Nevada and Utah constituted a major component of that
project. That study was followed by another major study required under
the Lincoln County Land Act--BARCAS (Basin and Range Carbonate Aquifer
Study). Drawing heavily on the mass of information made available by
those and related studies, I recently completed a general evaluation of
the probable environmental consequences of proposed major groundwater
withdrawals by the Southern Nevada Water Authority and others in
eastern, central, and southern Nevada (see attached article from
September 2007 Bioscience).* Figuring prominently in the ``other''
category is the Vidler Water Company, the largest corporation in
America dedicated to converting water rights from agricultural to urban
uses, and the largest landowner in Nevada.
* Article has been retained in subcommittee files.
What I found was that the SNWA groundwater project, by itself, is
likely to produce perceptible reductions of the groundwater table
extending from Death Valley, California to Sevier Lake, Utah. Those
reductions are likely to exceed 50 feet over an area extending from
Indian Springs just north of Las Vegas to Baker, Nevada at the base of
Great Basin National Park, and in some areas could reach 1600 feet. To
put that in perspective, the groundwater table in this region is known
to have declined approximately 30 feet over the past 15,000 years as
glaciers retreated and pluvial lakes in the Great Basin desiccated,
creating the desert conditions we experience today. A consequence of
water table declines of this magnitude will be reduction and or
disappearance of spring discharge, wetland area, and plant communities
dependent on shallow groundwater tables. Those consequences put in
jeopardy the continued existence of more than 150 known wetland
dependent species, including 20 listed as threatened or endangered.
And, some estimates suggest that we may have only discovered somewhere
in the neighborhood of 10% of the species actually living in the area.
Groundwater level declines of that magnitude will also dramatically
increase the costs of groundwater pumping for everyone living in the
affected areas of rural Nevada and Utah--rancher, farmer, rural
resident, and small-town citizen alike. These consequences will also
significantly diminish recreational opportunities and therefore quality
of life for people living in metropolitan areas such as Las Vegas, Salt
Lake City and Reno--recreational opportunities that are now available
at Great Basin and Death Valley National Parks; Pahranagat, Moapa,
Desert Game Range, and Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuges; Wayne
Kirch, Key Pittman, and Overton State Wildlife Management Areas; Lake
Mead National Recreation Area, and the innumerable springs, streams,
and wetland areas presently utilized for recreational purposes on both
public and private land. These consequences can be expected as a result
of only the proposed SNWA groundwater project. That proposal at present
amounts to approximately 10-25% of the quantity of groundwater
requested from the Nevada State Engineer! It is therefore likely that
probable impacts mentioned above have been significantly
SNWA has suggested that management of the groundwater basin using
state-of-the-art methods will permit satisfactory mitigation of adverse
impacts described above. Results of the recent BARCAS study indicating
higher than expected interbasin groundwater flow, do not support that
assertion. Because of relatively high interbasin flow, environmentally
significant portions of a groundwater basin cannot be isolated without
expenditure of huge quantities of energy to pump water uphill. It's
unlikely that any society would be willing to undertake that expense
for an infinite period of time. Without perpetual maintenance, major
losses of biodiversity are inevitable. Furthermore, the fact that SNWA
is likely to have control of no more than 25% of the groundwater in the
area makes it highly unlikely that they will be able to have a
controlling influence on adverse effects of groundwater pumping.
SNWA has also suggested that existing federal and state laws and
regulations are adequate to protect existing rights and environmental
values. Dry springs in Las Vegas Valley, Pahrump Valley, and many other
locations around the Southwest demonstrate that historical practice
does not support their suggestion. University of Wisconsin Professor
Mary Anderson, in an editorial published in the July/August issue of
the professional journal, Groundwater, noted that the traditional focus
of the entire groundwater industry is to develop groundwater resources
for ``beneficial use by humans'', a purpose that ultimately runs
counter to efforts directed toward preserving, `` . . . the integrity,
stability, and beauty of the biotic community.''. Unless the entire
industry changes that traditional focus, environmental values and the
rights many people associate with them will not be protected.
Of course, direct effects of proposed groundwater development
discussed above, while serious, may be viewed as largely restricted to
the state of Nevada, and therefore of less direct pertinence to your
subcommittee's responsibilities. Direct pertinence to the Senate Public
Lands subcommittee responsibilities is illustrated by the following:
1. The Lincoln County Land Act required Nevada and Utah to
negotiate a mutually acceptable groundwater development
agreement. The agreement has not yet been reached, and SNWA
has, for now, shifted their focus away from Snake Valley, the
area most likely to most quickly affect groundwater resources
2. Proposed groundwater projects in Nevada and Utah, and
throughout the United States are a major cause of wildlife
decline, loss of biodiversity, and shifts in agricultural
3. The Nevada delegation, and probably members of your
committee have already been approached by Las Vegas civic
leaders with requests to convert additional public land
adjacent to Las Vegas to private uses as a means of
accommodating continued growth. That continued growth depends
on acquiring additional water resources, a reality that
increases pressure for unsustainable use of groundwater
4. Groundwater is needed to provide cooling water for
proposed coal-fired power plants near Ely, Nevada. Substantial
quantities of electricity will be required to lift groundwater
to the surface and pump it to Las Vegas. The power plants, if
built will make substantial contributions to atmospheric
CO2 in a state with the greatest potential in the US
for development of solar and geothermal energy, and major wind
5. Changes to plant communities caused by declining
groundwater tables increase the probability of invasion by
cheatgrass and other exotics, which in turn increase the
frequency and intensity of wildfire.
These considerations lead me to recommend the following:
1. Release of additional federal land near Las Vegas should
be conditioned upon a demonstration that water resources to
support growth on that land will not deplete groundwater
resources or biodiversity, nor add carbon dioxide to the
2. Any legislation associated with changes in public land use
in the Great Basin must require identification of sustainable
water supplies that will not deplete groundwater resources,
spring discharge, wetland area, or alter plant communities
dependent on relatively shallow groundwater tables. It must
also ensure carbon neutrality.
3. Increased funding for USGS studies to model effects of
proposed groundwater development is needed. It should be
considered a required information source prior to transfer of
any federal land to private uses.
4. Congress should fund a groundwater modeling study of the
deep carbonate aquifer in Utah and Nevada as a means of
evaluating the environmental consequences of development
associated with proposed changes to the Clark County, Lincoln
County, and White Pine County Land Acts.
James E. Deacon,
Emeritus Distinguished Professor.
Statement of Kyle Davis, Policy Director, Nevada Conservation League,
Las Vegas, NV
The Nevada Conservation League is a Nevada 501 C4 charitable
organization. Our organization's mission is to help protect Nevada's
land, air and fragile water supplies through public education and
advocacy within government at all levels. On behalf of our membership
and citizens of Nevada concerned about the threat of global climate
change, we feel it is important to highlight the anticipated impacts on
Global warming is one of the most important issues facing the State
of Nevada. As set forth in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report,
scientists are in near universal agreement that our planet is warming
and that this warming is caused by human activities that release
greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The consequences of doing nothing
about this problem are significant, and we are already seeing some of
the impacts here in our state. Most of the scientific models predict
that even if we can keep our greenhouse gas emissions at current
levels, our state faces the strong likelihood of increased drought and
wildfires. As you are no doubt aware, our state has just endured a very
costly and damaging wildfire season, and the problem will only get
Nevadans are also dealing with the impacts of drought on our
fragile water supplies. Our state is the driest state in the country,
and global warming will only exacerbate this. According to the Natural
Resources Defense Council, the impact will be most pronounced in a
decrease of water throughout the Great Basin as well as decreased
stream flows on most of Nevada's rivers, including the Colorado and
Truckee Rivers. Both of these rivers are essential to the livelihoods
of our most populated communities, making climate change not only an
environmental concern, but a threat to our population. A shorter
winter, characterized by more precipitation falling as rain rather than
snow, will lead to drier conditions earlier in our forests and a
lengthening fire season. The anticipated impacts of both longer
droughts and increased wildfires will be devastating to our ecosystems
throughout the great basin. Many of Nevada's residents in Eastern
Nevada can attest to the drop in water tables, causing a substantial
decrease in wildlife populations.
Keep in mind; these are the likely impacts if we curb our emissions
today. Unfortunately, there are plans on the table to increase our
emissions through the construction of three coal fired power plants.
Burning coal accounts for 40% of the United States' output of carbon
dioxide. Needless to say, if we are to build more coal-fired power
plants, the consequences from global warming would be much worse. In
fact, estimates from BLM documents put the carbon dioxide emission of
these three plants at over 48 million tons of carbon dioxide a year.
For comparison, this number would be more than could be saved by each
household in America replacing two 60 watt bulbs with a compact
fluorescent, or by planting four million trees!
If we do increase carbon dioxide emissions, the results could be
disastrous. According to the California Climate Change Center, winter
snowpack could be reduced by 70-90 percent, and wildfire activity could
increase by 55 percent if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their
current pace. This would render much of Nevada unlivable, as we rely on
mountain snowpack and runoff to provide our water supply, not just for
municipal use, but for agriculture as well. In addition to this, the
National Academy of Sciences estimates that if current emissions
continue, we can expect to see an average temperature increase between
six and ten degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. Currently,
the average summertime high temperature in Las Vegas is 102 degrees.
What effect would an increase to 108-112 degrees have on our tourism-
based economy, not to mention the quality of life of our residents?
Clearly, climate change is a clear threat, and Nevadans are already
seeing the impacts right now. We have experienced a very warm summer in
both Northern and Southern Nevada, and last year, both of our major
cities were among the top cities in increase in summer temperature
lows. Our fire season has been long and intense, with the Angora and
Hawken fires threatening our neighborhoods and cities.
The time for action is now. We cannot continue to hide behind
excuses and obfuscations of the facts. Global warming is a real
problem; the scientific community is united on this. The impacts of
global warming are likely to hit Nevada harder than many other states.
This is the most pressing environmental issue facing our state, and we
need to take swift action at both the state and national level to
reverse the effects of climate change so that we can preserve our
quality of life, and preserve our state for our children and
Statement of Mark Salvo, Director, and Andy Kerr, Advisor, Sagebrush
conclusions and recommendations
1. The Great Basin is a desert. Drying periods (``droughts'')
are common in the Great Basin.
2. A primary cause of excessive wildfires in the Great Basin
is the spread of flammable, nonnative cheatgrass (Bromus
tectorum). A primary cause of cheatgrass invasion is domestic
3. Climate change, continued livestock grazing and the
presence of nonnative weeds will complicate restoration of
native ecosystems and watersheds in the Great Basin.
4. Federal agencies and programs fail to consider what is
known about the relationship of livestock grazing to cheatgrass
invasion, the cheatgrass-fire cycle, and implications for
native restoration of cheatgrass-infested ecosystems in the
5. Great Basin rangelands should be restored to provide
habitat for sage-grouse, pronghorn, mule deer and other
wildlife; clean and plentiful water for Great Basin
communities; and quality recreational opportunities for
6. Rangelands restored with native species and ungrazed by
livestock will be more resistant and resilient to climate
change than degraded lands.
7. The Federal government should:
a. Require Federal land management agencies to
develop and implement comprehensive plans to halt the
spread of cheatgrass and conserve and restore native
ecosystems and watersheds on Federal public lands.
b. Prohibit the use of non-native plants/seeds for
restoration and require the use of locally adapted
native shrubs, wildflowers and grasses/seeds for
restoration on Federal public lands.
c. Discontinue livestock grazing on Federal public
lands to eliminate a primary cause of weed invasion and
increase the success of ecological and hydrological
restoration programs for sagebrush steppe.
``drought'' is common in the great basin
The Great Basin is historically prone to droughts. At least six
multi-year droughts have been recorded in the Great Basin: 1896-1905,
1930-1936, 1953-1965, 1974-1978, 1988-1993, and 1999-2004.\1\ Although
climate change may be contributing to recent droughts in the region,
droughts are ``a normal part of natural climate variations.''\2\
Droughts are ``merely temporary abnormalities determined by deficient
\1\ Bureau of Reclamation. ``Drought in the West: Great Basin''
(webpage). U.S. Dept. Interior, Bureau of Reclamation. (www.usbr.gov/
uc/feature/great--basin.html; viewed Oct. 7, 2007).
\2\ Bureau of Reclamation. ``Drought in the West: Upper Colorado
River Basin'' (webpage). U.S. Dept. Interior, Bureau of Reclamation.
(www.usbr.gov/uc/feature/drought.html; viewed Oct. 7, 2007).
\3\ Bureau of Reclamation, ``Upper Colorado River Basin.''
cheatgrass occurrence and distribution
Cheatgrass has become the dominant species on 100 million acres--
158,000 square miles--in the Intermountain West.\4\ More than fifty
percent of sagebrush steppe may be invaded to some extent by
cheatgrass, with losses projected to accelerate in the future.\5\
Cheatgrass is spreading at a rate of 14 percent annually in the United
States.\6\ A BLM ecologist and program coordinator has warned that
``[c]heatgrass is changing the West.''\7\
\4\ Rosentreter, R. 1994. Displacement of rare plants by exotic
grasses. Pages 170-175 in S. B. Monsen and S. G. Kitchen (eds.).
PROCEEDINGS--ECOLOGY AND MANAGEMENT OF ANNUAL RANGELANDS. Gen. Tech.
Rep. INT-313. USDA, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station.
Ogden, UT: 170 (citing R. Mack. 1981. Invasion of Bromus tectorum L.
into western North America: an ecological chronicle. Agro-Ecosystems 7:
\5\ Rowland, M. M. 2004. Effects of management practices on birds:
Greater Sage-grouse. Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center.
Jamestown, ND. Available at Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
(ver. 12AUG2004) (citing N. E. West. 1999. Managing for biodiversity of
rangelands. Pages 101-126 in W. W. Collins and C. O. Qualset (eds.).
BIODIVERSITY IN AGROECOSYSTEMS. CRC Press. Boca Raton, FL [supporting
statement that cheatgrass has invaded more than half of the sagebrush
habitats] and M. A. Hemstrom, M. J. Wisdom, M. M. Rowland, et al. 2002.
Sagebrush-steppe vegetation dynamics and potential for restoration in
the interior Columbia Basin, USA. Conservation Biology 16: 1243-1255
[supporting contention that cheatgrass will continue to spread into
\6\ Duncan, C. A. et al. 2004. Assessing the economic,
environmental, and societal losses from invasive plants on rangeland
and wildlands. Weed Technology (Invasive Weed Symposium) 18(5): 1412,
\7\ Miller, J. ``Alien invader clings to socks, stokes West's
wildfires.'' Daily Herald (Provo, UT) (Aug. 8, 2007).
The Great Basin and Nevada are particularly susceptible to
cheatgrass incursion. Nearly 80 percent of the Great Basin and 80
percent of the land area in Nevada are estimated to be susceptible to
displacement by cheatgrass at low or greater risk.\8\ Sagebrush covers
approximately 28 percent of the Great Basin, of which nearly 38 percent
is estimated at moderate risk and nearly 20 percent at high risk of
invasion by cheatgrass.\9\ Eighty-four percent of Nevada is managed by
the federal government (primarily by the Bureau of Land Management),
and federal lands contain nearly 90 percent of the area estimated to be
at moderate risk of cheatgrass invasion.\10\
\8\ Suring, L. H., M. J. Wisdom, R. J. Tausch, R. F. Miller, M. M.
Rowland, L. Schueck, C. W. Meinke. 2005. Modeling threats to sagebrush
and other shrubland communities. Chap. 4 in part II: Regional
assessment of habitats for species of conservation concern in the Great
Basin. Pages 114-149 in M. J. Wisdom, M. M. Rowland, L. H. Suring
(eds.). HABITAT THREATS IN THE SAGEBRUSH ECOSYSTEM: METHODS OF REGIONAL
ASSESSMENT AND APPLICATIONS IN THE GREAT BASIN. Alliance Communications
Group. Lawrence, KS: 138.
\9\ Suring et al. (2005): 138.
\10\ Suring et al. (2005): 140.
factors in the spread of cheatgrass
Cheatgrass thrives in disturbed, and especially burned, areas.
Cultivation and subsequent land abandonment, livestock grazing, removal
of native vegetation, and repeated fires can interact, or act singly,
to proliferate cheatgrass. Cheatgrass can increase fire frequency,
favoring itself and potentially inhibiting native plants from
establishing in burned areas. The presence of cheatgrass in sagebrush
steppe can lead to an eventual conversion of the shrubsteppe community
to an exotic grassland. In some cases, cheatgrass encourages invasion
by other exotic species such as knapweed and thistle.\11\ Cheatgrass is
well adapted to dry (xeric) sites and climate change may favor
\11\ Gucker, C. L. 2007. Bromus tectorum in Fire Effects
Information System (database). U.S. Dept. Agriculture, Forest Service,
Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory.
(www.fs.fed.us/database/feis; viewed Oct. 7, 2007) (and references
livestock grazing is a primary cause of cheatgrass invasion
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administers approximately
18,000 grazing permits and leases to graze almost 13 million AUMs
(animal unit months)\12\ on 165 million acres of public lands,\13\
primarily in sagebrush steppe. More than 99 percent of remaining
sagebrush steppe has been affected by livestock and approximately 30
percent has been heavily grazed.\14\ The BLM grazing program is
administered by 107 field offices that spend at least $58 million
annually to manage public lands grazing,\15\ at a loss of at least
$54.6 million per year to federal taxpayers.\16\
\12\ An animal unit month is a measure of the amount of forage
necessary to sustain a cow and calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats,
for one month.
\13\ BLM. Undated. Bureau of Land Management 2007 Budget
Justifications. Bureau of Land Management. Washington, DC: I-3; see
also Government Accountability Office. 2005. Livestock grazing: federal
expenditures and receipts vary depending on the agency and the purpose
of the fee charged. GAO-05-869. Government Accountability Office.
Washington, DC: 15, 76; BLM. 2007. Final Vegetation Treatments on
Bureau of Land Management Lands in 17 Western States Programatic
Environmental Report. Bureau of Land Management, Nevada State Office.
Reno, NV: 4-94. (June 2007) (grazing permitted on 165 million acres of
\14\ West, N. E. 1996. Strategies for maintenance and repair of
biotic community diversity on rangelands. Chap. 22. Pages 326-346 in R.
C. Szaro and D. W. Johnston (eds.). BIODIVERSITY IN MANAGED LANDSCAPES.
THEORY AND PRACTICE. Oxford University Press. New York, NY: 336, 337.
\15\ Government Accountability Office. 2005. Livestock grazing:
federal expenditures and receipts vary depending on the agency and the
purpose of the fee charged. GAO-05-869. Government Accountability
Office. Washington, DC: 21.
\16\ GAO (2005): 31.
Livestock spread cheatgrass by:
disturbing the soil (and damaging biological soil crust--a
living protective layer that prevents erosion, provides
nutrients to plants, and helps prevent establishment of
removing competing native vegetation; and
spreading cheatgrass seeds on their coats and hooves.\17\
\17\ Gucker (2007); E. J. Rawlings, K. K. Hanson, R. L. Sanford, J.
Belnap. 1997. The striking effects of land use practices and Bromus
tectorum invasion on phosphorous cycling in a desert ecosystem of the
Colorado Plateau. Bull. Ecological Soc'y of America 78: 300; A. J.
Belsky and J. L. Gelbard. 2000. Livestock grazing and weed invasions in
the arid West. Distributed report. Oregon Natural Desert Association.
Bend, OR; J. Gelbard. 1999. Multiple scale causes of exotic plant
invasions in the Colorado Plateau and Great Basin, USA. M.S. thesis.
Duke University, Nicholas School of the Environment. Durham, NC.
Furthermore, recent research indicates that nonnative ungulates--
such as domestic livestock--select native plants over nonnative plants,
giving a competitive advantage to nonnative weeds.\18\
\18\ John D. Parker, J. D., D. E. Burkepile, M. E. Hay. Opposing
effects of native and exotic herbivores on plant invasions. Science
Once cheatgrass is established, it is usually only a matter of time
before the area burns. Livestock grazing following fire is especially
damaging to recovery of sagebrush steppe. Livestock will graze and
trample sagebrush seedlings, emerging grasses and wildflowers, and
exposed soil on burned sites when they are most risk of invasion by
cheatgrass and other exotic species. Current research suggests that
native vegetation in the sagebrush steppe may require ten years or more
to recover from various management treatments or disturbance (such as
fire).\19\ However, the BLM usually only prescribes two years of rest
\19\ Monsen, S. B., R. Stevens, N. L. Shaw (compilers). 2004.
RESTORING WESTERN RANGES AND WILDLANDS (vol. I). Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-
GTR-136-Vol. 1. USDA-Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.
Fort Collins, CO: 194-198.
managing for the lords of yesterday
Wildfires have burned more than 2.4 million acres of sagebrush
steppe in Idaho, Nevada, and Utah in 2007. The BLM has blamed drought,
climate change, high temperatures and ``Mother Nature'' for the
fires.\20\ Cheatgrass is also identified as a major cause of wildfires,
but never the livestock that help introduce and spread the species.
Indeed, one BLM state director has even suggested that his agency may
need to ``re-examine the convention of resting burned allotments for
two or three years before allowing grazing again,'' claiming that
``[l]ivestock may need to get back on the ground sooner to keep the
fire load down.''\21\
\20\ Christensen, M. ``Dangerously dry.'' Times-News (Twin Falls,
ID) (Aug. 6, 2007).
\21\ Wilkins, D. ``Summer fires rekindle grazing debate.'' Capital
Press (July 27, 2007).
The public lands grazing industry has so captured\22\ the process
of Federal public lands management that livestock grazing is now
commonly viewed as a solution to weed invasion, rather than a cause.
Some agency staff have advocated seeding burned areas with nonnative
forage plants rather than native shrubs, grasses and wild flowers
because native plants ``don't have a prayer'' against cheatgrass.\23\
In fact, native plants don't have a prayer against livestock. Others
believe that livestock can be used to control cheatgrass, although
research suggests that prescriptive grazing would have little effect on
\22\ Donahue, D. L. 2005. Western grazing: the capture of grass,
ground, and government. Environmental Law 35: 721-806.
\23\ Miller, ``Alien invader clings to socks, stokes West's
\24\ Mayer, K. H. 2004. The effects of defoliation on Bromus
tectorum seed production and growth. M.S. thesis. Oregon State
University. Corvallis, OR.
A few simple facts prove that managing public lands for grazing,
mining and other extractive industries--the ``Lords of
Yesterday''\25\--supports only a small minority of Americans, and at
the expense of native flora and fauna, recreational opportunities and
amenity-based businesses. In Nevada (the state with more federal land
than any other outside of Alaska), federal public lands grazing
provides 1,228 jobs.\26\ By comparison, one casino in Las Vegas employs
37,000 people.\27\ Changing economics, lifestyle choices and retirement
are contributing to a steady decline in public lands ranching across
\25\ The term ``Lords of Yesterday'' refers to historic industries
and was popularized in C. F. Wilkinson. 1992. CROSSING THE NEXT
MERIDIAN: LAND, WATER AND THE FUTURE OF THE WEST. Island Press.
\26\ Power, T. 1996. LOST LANDSCAPES AND FAILED ECONOMIES: THE
SEARCH FOR A VALUE OF PLACE. Island Press. Washington, DC: 184 (table
\27\ Greenhouse, S. ``Behind Las Vegas's glitter, heavy losses and
layoffs.'' New York Times (Oct. 19, 2001).
The mining industry, despite its omnipresence in the state, also
employs relatively few Nevadans--approximately 14,000.\28\ By
comparison, the gaming industry employs more than 215,000 people in
Nevada and generated $12.6 billion in revenue in 2006.\29\
\28\ Dilanian, K. ``Royalty-free mining days may be near end.'' USA
Today (Oct. 1, 2007): 12A.
\29\ American Gaming Association. ``Industry Information/State
Information: Statistics--Nevada'' (webpage) (www.americangaming.org/
Industry/state/statistics.cfm?stateid=9; visited October 1, 2007).
Extractive industries are giving way to professional, service and
amenity-based economies in the West.\30\ Management of Federal public
lands should support this transition.
\30\ Sonoran Institute. 2006. You've Come a Long Way, Cowboy: Ten
Truths and Trends in the New American West. Sonoran Institute. Tucson,
Climate change is occurring in the Great Basin and may adversely
affect native vegetation and restoration efforts. Atmospheric
CO2 has increased approximately 20 percent during the past
century.\31\ Average temperature has increased 0.6-1.1 F in the last
100 years in the Great Basin.\32\ Climate change is projected to cause
temperatures to continue to increase in the Great Basin by 3-4 F in
spring and autumn, and by 5-6 F in winter and summer, by 2100.\33\ One
study estimated that as much as 80 percent of remaining sagebrush
steppe in the West could be lost to the direct or indirect effects of
\31\ West, N. E. 2000. Synecology and disturbance regimes of
sagebrush steppe ecosystems. Pages 15-26 in P. G. Entwistle, A. M.
Debolt, J. H. Kaltenecker, K. Steenhof (compilers). Proc. Sagebrush
Steppe Ecosystems Symposium; June 21-23, 1999; Boise State University,
Boise, ID. Publ. no. BLM/ID/PT-0001001+1150. Bureau of Land Management.
Boise, ID: 16.
\32\ Pellant, M., Great Basin Restoration Initiative Coordinator,
Bureau of Land Management. Statement before the House Appropriations
Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, regarding
Climate Change. (Apr. 26, 2007) (copy on file with the Sagebrush Sea
\33\ Pellant, M., Great Basin Restoration Initiative Coordinator,
Bureau of Land Management. Statement before the House Appropriations
Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, regarding
Climate Change. (Apr. 26, 2007) (citing data from the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change and the Hadley Centre, United Kingdom) (copy on
file with the Sagebrush Sea Campaign).
\34\ Neilson, R. P., J. M. Lenihan, D. Bachelet, R. J. Drapek.
2005. Climate change implications for sagebrush ecosystems. Trans. N.
Amer. Wildl. & Nat. Res. Conf. 70: 145-159 (as cited in M. J. Wisdom,
M. M. Rowland, R. J. Tausch. 2005. Effective management strategies for
sage-grouse and sagebrush: a question of triage? Trans. N. Amer. Wildl.
& Nat. Res. Conf. 70: 206). See also R. S. Thompson, S. E. Hostetler,
P. J. Bartlein, K. H. Anderson. 1998. A Strategy for Assessing
Potential Future Changes in Climate, Hydrology, and Vegetation in the
Western United States. USGS Circular 1153. Government Printing Office.
Washington, DC: 14 (available at pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1998/c1153/
c1153.pdf; viewed Apr. 17, 2007) (the range of big sagebrush [Artemisia
tridentata] is estimated to decline by 59 percent if atmospheric
CO2 is doubled from current levels).
Measures should be implemented immediately to conserve and restore
sagebrush steppe in preparation for further climate change and
concurrently take steps to adequately reduce greenhouse gas emissions
to limit the estimated increase in temperature.
recommendations for the federal government
Biological invasions, especially invasion by exotic weeds, are
consistently cited as among the most important challenges to
maintenance of healthy sagebrush communities.\35\ The Federal
government must acknowledge scientific evidence of the contributions of
livestock grazing to cheatgrass invasion and resulting unnatural fires
and develop strategies to reduce inappropriate grazing on Federal
public lands. Current Federal management initiatives, such as the BLM
17-state Final Vegetation Treatments Using Herbicides Programmatic
Environmental Impact Statement/Programmatic Environmental Report (the
Record of Decision was just released on Friday, October 5),\36\ that do
not address the effects of livestock grazing on native vegetation and
weed invasion, have no hope of solving the cheatgrass problem.
Similarly, federally funded research projects such as the $13 million
``SageSTEP'' that purports to study ways to end the cheatgrass-fire
cycle--without addressing the contributions of livestock grazing to
cheatgrass invasion--are a waste of taxpayer funds.\37\
\35\ Suring et al. (2005): 114 and citations.
\36\ 72 Fed. Reg. 57065 (Oct. 5, 2007).
\37\ SageSTEP: Sagebrush Steppe Treatment Evaluation Project,
Successful ecological and hydrological restoration in the Great
Basin will require that livestock grazing either be eliminated or
significantly reduced on Federal public lands. The cheatgrass-fire
cycle will not be broken unless the driver of livestock grazing is
removed. Ending or reducing livestock grazing on Federal public lands,
while beneficial for the land, water and wildlife, will have
consequences for Federal grazing permittees. There is an ecologically
imperative, economically rational, fiscally prudent, socially just and
politically pragmatic solution to resolve grazing conflicts and also
provide for ranchers: voluntary federal grazing permit buyout. A recent
survey indicates that approximately half of public lands ranchers in
Nevada may be interested in retiring their grazing permits at the price
of $255 per animal unit month (AUM; the amount of forage necessary to
sustain one cow and calf for one month).\38\ If the price were $300/
AUM, even more ranchers would be interested in voluntary permit
buyout.\39\ Given the amount of subsidies the Federal government
annually pays to sustain public lands ranching, compensating grazing
permittees to voluntarily end their grazing on public lands would be a
good deal for taxpayers, ranchers and the environment.
\38\ van Kooten, G. C., R. W. Thomsen, T. Hobby. 2006. Resolving
range conflict in Nevada? Buyouts and other compensation alternatives.
Rev. Agric. Econ. 28(4): 515-530.
\39\ The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Voluntary and Equitable
Grazing Conflict Resolution Act (S. 3858, 109th Congress), is
cosponsored by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Gordon Smith (R-OR). The
bill is expected to be reintroduced into the 110th Congress. The
legislation would pay affected grazing lessees $300/AUM to retire their
grazing permits. Nearly all affected lessees are expected to accept the
The presence of cheatgrass in sagebrush habitats has contributed to
larger, more intense and more frequent wildfires than what naturally
occurred. Domestic livestock aid and abet cheatgrass invasion by
disturbing the soil, removing competing native vegetation, and
spreading cheatgrass seed on their coats and hooves. Federal agencies
will fail to halt the cheatgrass invasion and resultant, excessive
wildfires in sagebrush steppe unless and until the effects of livestock
grazing are acknowledged and addressed in restoration planning.
about the sagebrush sea campaign
The Sagebrush Sea Campaign (www.sagebrushsea.org) focuses public
attention and conservation resources on protecting and restoring the
vast sagebrush-steppe landscape in the American West. The campaign
participates in public lands management planning, advocates for natural
resource protection, and uses education, research, legislation and
litigation to conserve and restore the Sagebrush Sea for present and
future generations. The Sagebrush Sea Campaign is a project of Forest
Statement of Terry Marasco, Silver Jack Inn & LectroLux Cafe, Baker, NV
A greater threat than exotic vegetation to the Great Basin is water
mining such as is planned by the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
Removing water without replacement threatens a large variety of plant
and animal species, local economies (tourism, hunting, fishing, outdoor
recreation, farming, ranching).
The body of science, though not complete, points to widespread and
devastating effects of groundwater mining in already fragile and
drought prone environments. I submit the following to be included in
1. ``Fueling Population Growth in Las Vegas: How Large-scale
Groundwater Withdrawal Could Burn Regional Biodiversity ``
JAMES E. DEACON, AUSTIN E. WILLIAMS, CINDY DEACON WILLIAMS, AND
JACK E. WILLIAMS, 688 BioScience, September 2007 / Vol. 57 No.
2. ``Effects Of Interbasin Water Transport on Ecosystems Of
Spring Valley, White Pine County, Nevada'', 24 June 2006, David
Charlet, Ph.D. Professor of Biology, Community College Southern
Nevada, Henderson NV 89015.
3. ``Gambling on the Water Table, The High-Stakes
Implications of the Las Vegas Pipeline For Plants, Animals,
Places and People'', Defenders of Wildlife & The Great Basin
Water Network, October, 2007.
4. ``BARCASSI: Basin and Range Carbonate Aquifer System
Study'', USGS, June, 2007. Of particular note here iws the new
findings regarding the inter-connectivity of basins suggesting
that extracting groundwater from an aquifer upstream will
affect those basins downstream. The multiple effects of pumping
will affect negatively large areas of the Great Basin.
I also submit this letter noting statements by Senator Harry Reid
into the record:
Dear Mr. Smith:
Saturday, July 2 Senator Harry Reid met with me and 6 other
representatives of the Snake Valley Citizens Alliance (a group
of rural Nevadans opposed to the pipeline project) in Baker. He
stated strongly that he would not have as his legacy the
destruction of White Pine County by impacts from the proposed
Southern Nevada Water Authority's groundwater pipeline project.
With a stronger wording he stated; ``I will not see the rape of
Senator Reid strongly opposed the pipeline from Honey Lake to
Reno. In 1994 he stated that it would be ``environmentally bad,
too costly, and will provide too little water'' and ``the
project is a hoax and a sham'', and a ``wistful boondoggle''.
In a news release on the project, Sen. Reid stated: ``My goal
was to stop the waste of taxpayer's dollars and prevent
needless environmental degradation''. These comments are
appropriate today for the Clark, Lincoln and White Pine
Walker Lake provides another example of Reid's efforts to
conserve water resources and Nevada's recreation and tourism
sites by introducing the $200 Million Farm Bill.
What we rural Nevadans need to do is to keep Senator Reid
informed of potentially disastrous impacts as they are made
more clear, and bring to the table less impactful solutions to
southern NV's water problems (desalination now technically and
financially doable, and stringent conservation). For example we
mentioned San Antonio, TX as a fine model of strict
We are moved by the Senator's words and all rural Nevadans
need to watch the Senator from Searchlight's actions as the
dangers of this project become clearer. We need him on our
In conclusion, the Committee must responsibly review all threats to
the Great Basin.
Statement of Katie Fite, Western Watersheds Project, Boise, ID
Please enter this as Testimony on the SNWA Ground Water Pumping
Scheme Much of the Great Basin has undergone a significant degree of
desertification due to livestock grazing impacts, removal of native
vegetation in efforts to promote livestock forage, and other
activities. Streams, springs, and springbrooks have been turned into
dry gullies or trickles as a result of chronic grazing and trampling
Now, Global warming is exacerbating droughts and accelerating
Groundwater in the Great Basin and interior West is not available
on a sustainable basis for massive interbasin water projects, like the
Las Vegas water grab.
SNWA is engaging in Water Mining. It is not seriously developing
alternative water supply options, including increasing water
conservation or acquiring additional Colorado River supplies, nor
The US Congress should require the 7 Colorado River states to meet
standards for water conservation and efficiency. A basin-wide water
management plan with built-in environmental protection and mitigation,
including retirement of federal lands grazing permits, should be put
The U.S. Congress should also fund retirement of federal grazing
permits on a willing seller basis as part of an effort to conserve
scarce water suppiies in the Great Basin.
Under no circumstances should SNWA engage in public lands grazing--
as is currently occurring and/or planned with permits it has acquired
in this water grab. All federal land grazing permits acquired by SNWA
should be immediately retired.
The Nevada water grab may have direct serious negative
environmental impacts in many other western states, including Utah,
Arizona, and California. On top of this, the effects of ground water
depletion for coal-fired power plants, cyanide heap leach mining, and
other activities may extend the impacts north into Idaho as well.
Proposals in the works to develop new utility orridors/rights-of-
way in the Great Basin may also serve to extend pathways for pipeline
corridors further outward as well.
The US Congress should require states to develop compacts on shared
groundwater, including protection of environmental resources and
community health through a full and open public process before
ratification by Congress.
There is insufficient scientific information on Western groundwater
and on the environmental impacts of groundwater development and
transfer. The US Congress should mandate and fund scientific studies by
the USGS on groundwater systems shared by states and the potential
environmental and other impacts of groundwater development and