Cooperative Sagebrush Steppe Initiative - Butte Creek Project

Northeast Region

The Juniper Problem

The ecological communities of the Upper Pit River Watershed have changed drastically over the past 150 years. The reasons are both natural and human-caused: climate, fire suppression, invasive exotic plants, agriculture, timber harvest, and domestic livestock grazing. One community that has experienced significant change is western juniper, which is the dominant species for approximately 20% of the watershed and is rapidly expanding. The concurrent histories of grazing management and fire suppression likely have facilitated the spread of juniper. The ecological effects of juniper expansion are problematic and include alteration of local fire disturbance and hydrologic regimes, displacement of sagebrush and other vegetation, and adverse impacts on wildlife habitat for species such as sage-grouse, mule deer, and a recently expanding elk population. The climax condition of the expanding juniper community can become one of complete juniper dominance where virtually all other forbs and forage disappear and springs dry up. The steady conversion of rangeland, forest, and wildlife habitat to juniper woodland is deteriorating natural resources in the Upper Pit River Watershed. Juniper removal treatments are a sound practice used to achieve sustainable range management, hazardous fuel reduction, and wildlife habitat improvement.

The Butte Creek Project

  • Location: Butte Creek Watershed, Upper Pit River, Lassen County
  • Project Sponsor: Pit RCD
  • Time Frame: 2007–2008
  • Funding: $192,000 (Cooperative Sagebrush Initiative)
  • Project Objectives:
    • Reduced juniper expansion to benefit range, wildlife habitat, and fire management

The Butte Creek area southeast of Adin is a prime example of juniper invasion and the significant benefits treatments provide to wildlife habitat, rangeland health, and overall watershed condition. The Pit RCD’s 550-acre Butte Creek Project involved a broad partnership that included the California and Lassen County Fire Safe Councils, Susanville Indian Rancheria, Lassen County, USFS, BLM, NRCS, Cal Fire, and more than 20 private landowners. Restoration treatments addressed invasive western juniper expansion into sagebrush scrub and eastside pine habitats. Juniper was removed through a low-impact shearing and chipping, biomass utilization process that produced more 8,000 tons of fuel for use in clean renewable energy production. Vegetation monitoring transects were established prior to treatments to monitor changes in species richness, density, and percent cover. Richness (native plants per square meter [m2]) increased from 7 (pretreatment) to 14 2 years post-treatment. Percent cover (% native plant cover/ m2) increased from 16.6% pretreatment to 22% 2 years post-treatment.

The Pit RCD’s Cooperative Sagebrush Steppe Restoration Initiative partnership has restored more than 10,000 acres of private and public land watersheds through the removal and biomass utilization of western juniper over the past 8 years.