Ecologist to lead BLM effort to restore Great Basin
Mike Pellant, a rangeland ecologist from Boise, Idaho, will head the Bureau of Land Management’s effort to restore ecological health to the Great Basin — an area which includes five states.
“Mike is one of the smartest guys I know, when it comes to rangeland,” said John Singlaub, manager of BLM’s Carson City field office. “I’ve known him for years. He’s got some great ideas on how we can do things better both in the Great Basin and throughout the West.”
The BLM effort, formally called the “Great Basin Restoration Initiative,” is aimed largely at slowing the expansion of invasive weed species, such as cheat grass. The initiative will target all Great Basin areas, including land in Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Oregon and California.
Pellant, who has worked for BLM since 1976 in rangeland conservation and rehabilitation, was appointed to the post by the BLM’s Nevada State Director Bob Abbey.
“We can’t eliminate the invasive species,” Pellant said. “But we can develop strategies to maintain land that is healthy and restore degraded land. We need to reduce the ecological and economic consequences of these disturbances.”
According to BLM, the ecological health of the Great Basin has deteriorated at an alarming rate over the last 30 years as weed species from outside the United States have come to dominate some 25 million acres.
“Some research says that we may be losing up to 4,000 acres a day to invasive species,” Pellant said.
Singlaub of the Carson City BLM office refers to the expansion of weeds as “an explosion in slow motion.”
“The weeds that we’re seeing expand throughout the West — more exotics — they’re a serious problem.”
Part of the problem is that cheat grass dries early, burns readily, and carries fire. Singlaub said the wildfires of 1999 and 2000 were so devastating to the Great Basin that reseeding efforts depleted national seed supplies.
“We used up every native seed that was available in the United States,” he said.
He described the situation in one area that was hit especially hard, the Birds of River area along the Snake River in Idaho. There, cheat grass has replaced original shrubbery, leaving no place for small rodents too hide from raptors. After the rodents were all consumed, the birds were left with no food.
“From our perspective, it’s reached crises point,” Singlaub said. “And that’s another good reason to bring Mike on board.”
Pellant has a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in range science from Fort Hays State University in Kansas. He is the co-author of more than 20 restoration-related publications and is an adjunct faculty member at Boise State University. He will direct the project from BLM’s state office in Boise, to Singlaub’s dismay.
“I wish we could get him up here to Nevada, but I guess this is the best we can do,” he said.
ON THE NET
Western Great Basin Coordination Center: http://www.nv.blm.gov/wgbcc/