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Know the West

Utah Paiutes put the brakes on chaining

  When over 250,000 acres of central Utah's public lands burned in last summer's wildfires, the Bureau of Land Management began its routine land-clearing procedure: chaining. But soon after the BLM tractors started up this spring, dragging a heavy chain between two vehicles to uproot dead trees and create a new seed bed of churned-up earth, a federal court order cut the motor on the rehabilitation plan.

Five Southern Paiute bands convinced Judge Tena Campbell that there was more at stake than tree stumps. To protect 10,000-year-old American Indian artifacts and archaeological sites, Campbell halted the chaining pending further archaeological research. That means a postponement of the project for at least a year.

Environmental groups, including the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, joined the Paiutes in their fight against chaining. They said the BLM's aim was the creation of grazing lands, and that the planned use of non-native grass seeds would transform a diverse landscape into a monoculture.

BLM staffer Dave Henderson disagrees. Over such a vast acreage, he says, chaining and follow-up seeding is the only way to stabilize soils and prevent the spread of noxious weeds. "One of the most distressing things I've heard in this whole thing is: "Let Mother Nature take care of it," "''''says Henderson. "That's absolutely foolish."

" Emily Miller