Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition

Posted: Aug 2, 2004
Written by: 
April Reese

Original Profile
"In this day and age, there are people who are going to question everything that's said and done." -- the Bureau of Land Management's James Perkins, on the importance of backing ENLC projects with the best available science.

Location: Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition (ENLC) is based in the town of Ely, Nevada, but the scope of the coalition's work encompasses much of surrounding Lincoln and White Pine counties, nestled between the White Pine Mountains and the Schell Creek Range in the Great Basin. This area, which includes the Bureau of Land Management's vast Ely District, covers approximately 12 million acres, of which 93 percent is under federal management, either by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Forest Service, or the National Park Service.

Objective: ENLC's mission is to restore the dynamic and diverse landscapes of the Great Basin for present and future generations through collaborative efforts.

Participants: Independent scientists, BLM employees, environmentalists, ranchers, miners, local business leaders and tribal representatives.

Some of ENLC's founding partners are: Ducks Unlimited Nevada, Fraternity of the Desert Bighorn, Friends of Nevada Wilderness, Great Basin National Park, Mule Deer Foundation, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Bighorns Unlimited, Nevada Cattlemen's Association, Nevada Farm Bureau Federation, Nevada Wool Growers Association, Red Rock Audubon Society, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and The Nature Conservancy - Nevada, and BLM. Since ENLC's inception, other partners - such as the Sierra Club- Toiyabe Chapter, Mount Wheeler Power, Nevada Land Conservancy, Nevada Department of Agriculture, Native Seed Growers Association of Nevada, and the Tri-County Weed Project - have been added to the mix.

History: ENLC rose from the ashes of the catastrophic wildfires that scorched more than three million acres of sagebrush and pinon-juniper forest in 1999. With the blackened horizon still fresh in many minds, and many more acres to restore than the agency had resources for, BLM brought together a diverse group of locals to focus their energies and skills on the daunting task of restoring the vast, largely rural landscapes of eastern Nevada and breaking the cheatgrass fire cycle while sustaining local industries dependent on the area's natural resources. Protection of the area's water resources amid growing demand was also a unifying concern. The ENLC was established as a non-profit organization in March 2001.

At first, the group was under the administration of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, but it soon set up its own office. The coalition operates under an "assistance agreement" with BLM, which formally allows the group to help with agency projects and raise funds to support restoration efforts.

Many members credit the group's unity and vision to the leadership of BLM's Ely field office, headed by Gene Kolkman, which identified a common interest throughout the region in improving ecological conditions after the wildfires.

"They have been very proactive," said ENLC Executive Director Betsy MacFarlan. "Without the BLM being involved, we wouldn't have been able to get anything done, because it's mostly BLM lands."

The coalition works closely with the agency, collecting baseline data and developing projects such as thinning, reseeding and riparian restoration on federal lands. It also works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore sage grouse habitat. The agencies regard the ENLC as a partner, and consider the projects a joint effort. The group also works with private landowners interested in enhancing ecological values on their lands.

Because of federal laws limiting the ability of non-profit groups to implement or contract out on-the-ground projects on federal lands, the assistant agreement between BLM and ENLC does not allow the group to be directly involved in carrying out projects. The coalition is working with members of Congress to win an exception to that rule, which could clear the way for other groups to implement projects or help agencies find contractors.

While BLM funds support many of the projects ENLC is involved in, the group also solicits funding from other sources, both public and private - an important pursuit in light of the agency's limited resources and ambitious restoration goals, BLM officials note. In some cases, Congress earmarks funds in the agency's budget to address a particular issue, such as enhancing sage grouse habitat, which can then be used for projects jointly developed by BLM and ENLC. The coalition recently won a $250,000 grant from the Department of Energy to help fund efforts to enhance sagebrush habitat, which is losing ground to pinon-juniper forests. Of the five million acres of sagebrush under the administration of BLM's Ely field office, about two million are becoming dominated by the trees, reducing habitat for the sage grouse, according to BLM's James Perkins.

 Fencing sage grouse habitat
Photo courtesy of Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition
Accomplishments: ENLC's restoration goals require a small stack of proposals, ranging from pulling invasive plants to fencing off sensitive areas to protect them from wild horses. Some of the projects the group has completed or launched recently include: reseeding 1,400 acres invaded by cheatgrass, an invasive plant that increases fire risk, with native grasses; collecting baseline vegetation data for four watersheds; and fencing and rehabilitating about 60 acres of historic sage grouse habitat.

In an unusual move among collaborative groups, the coalition has set up a science committee, comprised of scientists from the University of Nevada-Reno, UN-Las Vegas, University of Utah, Utah State University, BLM, the Nature Conservancy and other organizations and institutions. Every proposed project must pass muster with the science committee, which may make suggestions for improvement or recommend against it.

ENLC counts the scientific rigor that the committee provides as one of its biggest strong suits. Coalition members say the science committee's oversight ensures that the best-available science is used to carry out the group's restoration mission. It also elevates the group's credibility among the public and other organizations and federal land managers, and lessens the likelihood of opposition, coalition members note.

The group's work has earned it kudos from the top brass in the Department of Interior: Both BLM Director Kathleen Clarke and Assistant Interior Secretary for Lands and Minerals Rebecca Watson have visited the coalition.

Challenges/constraints: Like many groups, the Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition faces the never-ending need to secure funding to support its work. In ENLC's case, the vast landscape and remoteness of the area provide even greater challenges in promoting the group's work among the public and attracting funding. Members actively pursue funding opportunities in urban areas, such as Las Vegas, emphasizing the importance of the eastern Nevada landscape to the entire state, and, increasingly, to urban recreationists.

To get its message out, both among the public and political leaders, ENLC issues a quarterly newsletter, maintains a web site, offers public presentations, and puts out periodic press releases to keep the public informed about restoration efforts. ENLC also hosts an annual workshop and field tour each June, open to all interested participants.

The group would like to add more interests to its diverse mix of stakeholders. So far, it has not been successful in attracting participation from off-road vehicle groups, and would like to include more Native American tribes as well, says ENLC Executive Director Betsy Macfarlan.

While the role of the coalition's science committee lends authority and legitimacy to the group's work, its effectiveness in shielding the group from lawsuits has not yet been tested at the landscape level. In 2000, a project on Mount Wilson, near Ely, Nevada, involving the removal of juniper and pinon pine trees to expand sagebrush and improve sage grouse habitat was legally challenged by a group of environmental organizations claiming that removal of the trees was unnecessary.

As a result of that lawsuit, the agency had to scale back the project, focusing on thinning trees around homes to reduce the threat of wildfire rather than restoring sagebrush. At the time, the ENLC science committee had not been formed, so BLM was not able to enlist its help in defending its position on the project.

Many say the true test of the coalition's workability will come when it takes on large-scale restoration projects, which are about to get under way.

For more information see:

Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition's web page

BLM Ely Field Office
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