Letters to the Editor

Lowery letter: Sagebrush Steppe

The Sagebrush Steppe is a myth. Pre-settlement, all the land now occupied by sagebrush and juniper was a grassland. Every seep of water had a lush and complex riparian area. Most of them had galleries of giant cottonwoods. Upland game birds nested at the base of the big trees and fed on herbs, forbs and insects in the bunchgrass community. Grasshoppers were a very important source of protein for their chicks.

Natural cycles of fire kept the susceptible sagebrush and juniper on thin soil and rocky ground where fire could not reach.

All of our weeds, including cheatgrass, came from the Near East and did not evolve with fire and so are susceptible to it.

Remove domestic livestock and restore natural fire cycles and see the grasslands and riparian area return.

A good example of this is in Hells Canyon south of the Grande Ronde River.

Cows were removed and the areas burned with a helitorch. Weeds are gone and native vegetation back.

How about you botanists and fire ecologists out there supporting me on this one.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture study done in the ’30s shows bunchgrass almost to Salt Lake.

Odos Lowery, natural resource specialist, Boise

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