Juniper reduction

Western juniper has long been a component of the Great Basin landscape. However decades of fire suppression has allowed the juniper to encroach upon and dominate vast areas, excluding other important plant species. These trees alter sage grouse habitat and can diminish sustainability of grazing land. The goal of sage-steppe restoration is to remove encroaching juniper while preserving older trees.

While the juniper removal projects taking place on the Modoc National Forest have been associated primarily with sage grouse habitat improvement, there are a variety of other ecological benefits resulting from removing encroaching juniper woodlands from the sage-steppe ecosystem.

Shows juniper stand before reduction project Shows juniper stand after reduction project
Before treatment   After treatment

Encroaching juniper woodlands may have significant impacts to water in the ecosystem. Western juniper trees pull more water from the ground than many of the grass and shrub species found along with them. With an increase in demand for available water by encroaching juniper trees combined with several years of severe drought experienced in Northeast California, the toll on seeps, springs and streams has become more visible. With the loss of understory vegetation within more established juniper woodlands, the potential of soil loss during intense rain storms becomes more probable, contributing to a loss in resiliency of the plants and animals associated with the sage-steppe ecosystem.

The Modoc National Forest is part of the Clear Lake Sage Grouse Working Group, which seeks to preserve and enhance the local sage grouse population in the Clear Lake Management Unit. This initiative was recognized by California NRCS and the California Association of Rural Conservation Districts with the Excellence in Conservation-Outstanding Team/Partnership Award for 2015. The award recognized this partnership for innovation in conservation to remove Western Juniper on more than 31,975 acres of sage-steppe ecosystem within the Modoc National Forest.

Primary participating groups are: local landowners, Bureau of Land Management, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Parks Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, the University of California Cooperative Extension and the California Department of Forestry.

Although it may be too soon to see results of juniper treatments on sage grouse returning to historical habitats, CDFG and USFWS have been relocating birds from other states to the area and have been noticing an increase in returns to historical habitat. “Populations are not where we want them to be, but we are getting there,” said USFWS Wildlife Biologist, John Beckstrand.

The Modoc National Forest has been engaging in landscape level Western juniper removal projects since 2008. Part of these restoration activities includes environmental compliance and public involvement for each new area identified for potential juniper reduction. The Forest Service encourages folks to engage during the specified scoping period for each project; advertised in the local newspaper and posted on the Modoc National Forest’s website at Submitting comments during specified scoping periods is the most effective way to identify concerns early in the planning process.

For questions, concerns or general interest in the sage steppe restoration activities taking place on the Modoc National Forest, please contact Chris Christofferson, District Ranger 530-299-8410 or Garrett Noles, Rangeland Management Specialist, 530-667-8630.