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Top USDA official applauds partnership effort to manage woodlands and protect private landowners from wildfire

By ThisIsReno

Nev. State Forester Pete Anderson talks about PJ treatments efforts in the Virginia City Highlands with USDA Under Secretary Sherman (third from left) and partners.

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CARSON CITY, Nev. — United States Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Harris Sherman toured pinyon-juniper affected areas in the Virginia City Highlands near Reno, NV Thursday, and met with members of the Nevada Pinyon-Juniper Partnership, a coalition of state, federal, private and nongovernmental organizations formed to develop an integrated approach to pinyon juniper management in Nevada.

Hosted by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service State Director Bruce Petersen, the tour and public meeting with Sherman highlighted the issues associated with high density stands of pinyon and juniper, such as risk of catastrophic fires, reduced wildlife habitat for species like sage grouse and mule deer, and reduced forest health.  Sherman oversees the Forest Service and NRCS, the USDA agencies responsible for managing the public forests and working with private landowners to protect the environment.

Sherman recognized Senator Harry Reid for a letter he sent to the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior, challenging them to jointly commit to a demonstration project in Nevada with the focus on targeted removal of pinyon and juniper in areas of highest need.

Sarah Adler, USDA Rural Development State Director, and co-chair of the Nevada Pinyon-Juniper Partnership, told the tour participants that a targeted demonstration pinyon-juniper removal project in eastern Nevada focused on areas of greatest collective benefit for forest health, wildlife diversity, and rural economies, would test whether interagency efforts in a landscape-scale restoration effort could prove fruitful.

“There is a lot at stake here in terms of enhancing the overall productivity of the land, with benefits for wildlife, rural people and enhanced forest health, Adler said.

Storey County Manager Pat Whitten described the potential impact of pinyon-juniper in one word: “Devastating.”

“More than 50 percent of this county is in Phase III (highest density) pinyon and juniper,” Whitten said. “With 70 percent of the homes located there we face a huge risk. A fire would wipe out homeowners and our county’s property tax base. We need some help here to deal with this problem.”

Undersecretary Sherman applauded the partnership and its efforts, noting that forest health is a critically important issue across the west. “Instead of random acts of conservation, we must think about landscape- scale conservation,” Harris said. “Priorities need to be set locally and collectively, using a regional partnership approach.”

The Pinyon-Juniper Partnership Summit, a conference to bring experts together to address opportunities to enhance Pinyon-Juniper woodland, will be held December 8-9, 2010 in Las Vegas. For more information on the Pinyon–Juniper Partnership or the conference, contact USDA Rural Development at (775) 887-1222.