Oregon Group Fights for Steens Mountain

     PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – An environmental group is fighting the Bureau of Land Management’s road building in the Steens Mountain area. The Oregon Natural Desert Association says off-road vehicles, which spread non-native grasses that harm the sage grouse, threatens the mountain and its habitat and creatures.

     The group says BLM is violating environmental law by improving primitive routes, including “ripping live, old-growth junipers out of the ground; and moving boulders taller than cars to the sides of the constructed roads.”
     Steens Mountain, 9,700 feet high and 60 miles long, rises “from a broad swath of sagebrush steppe in the northern Great Basin.” The 2000 Steens Act designated a special management area of nearly 500,000 acres, including 170,000 acres of wilderness and seven wilderness study areas.
     Steens Mountain provides habitat for wolverine, pronghorn antelope, special-status bats and the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout, and the endangered Northern goshawk and sage grouse. Road-building harms the sage grouse in particular, because it spreads non-native cheatgrass that depletes sagebrush habitat upon which the wild pheasant rely.
     The BLM bladed the primitive Burnt Car Road through the Blitzen River wilderness study area ostensibly for a feral horse roundup, though the blade operator said it was also to provide access for fishing and to a private inholding, the lawsuit claims.
     The Desert Association says that under the Steens Act, roads are allowed only for public safety or environmental protection. The agency also failed to complete environmental analysis before beginning blading, the group says.
     The Desert Association sued the BLM in October 2008 over a juniper-elimination plan, and again in April this year over a road plan that allowed travel on 555 of 556 miles of roads in the special management area, despite a court decision in June of 2007 requiring reformulation of the plan.
     Represented by David Becker, the group seeks reversal of BLM decisions and an order declaring the horse gathering and related activities unlawful.

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