Resident: BLM clear-cutting Pine Nuts

Tom Bettencourt is concerned about a tree-thinning operation going on along Sunrise Pass Road in the Pinenuts.

Tom Bettencourt is concerned about a tree-thinning operation going on along Sunrise Pass Road in the Pinenuts.

Federal contractors are working to thin trees on 6,100 acres of land in the Pine Nuts.

One of the largest areas is near Sunrise Pass Road where “Pine Nut” Tom Bettencourt is calling it a disaster.

Bettencourt said he’s lived in the Pine Nuts for more than a quarter century and he’s never seen anything like it.

“They’re cutting along both sides of the road,” he said. “It’s not a fire break and it’s not for the ruffle grouse.”

Bettencourt said he’s never even seen a sage grouse on the west slope of the Pine Nuts.

“It is a restoration project for sage-grouse habitat and fuels reduction,” BLM spokeswoman Lisa Ross said on Thursday.

The project is listed on the BLM’s website and shows a connected area on the east slope of the Pine Nuts above Johnson Lane.

According to the map, the work is being conducted in the drainages below Mineral Peak about three miles south of the Carson-Douglas line and about a half dozen miles up Sunrise Pass Road from Johnson Lane.

“They’ve chewed up way more than 2,000 cords of wood,” Bettencourt estimated. “I could have had 500 people up here. It would be cleared by now and people could have made use of the wood. It’s ridiculous that they didn’t let the people use the resources. They’re devastating the Pine Nut crop.”

As part of the mechanical thinning process, trees and brush are chewed up and distributed on the land as mulch.

“They’re just making kindling,” Bettencourt said. “They’re not burying it. They’re taking down 40-foot trees.”

Bettencourt also faces eviction from the cabin he’s occupied for years.

He said that the BLM determined the cabin is 800 feet into public land and that he’s been given until next spring to clear out.

“I’ve been right here for 13 years,” he said. “The research they did on me to find out where I was at cost a lot of money.”

A similar project was conducted east of Ruhenstroth earlier this season.

That project was just thinning, according to the map on the BLM’s website.

Ross said that project involved mechanical thinning of 189 acres of brush, piñon and juniper trees.

Planning and Environmental Coordinator Brian L. Buttazoni said the work was authorized in April 2014.

While the BLM is working on a new resource management plan, Buttazoni said this work is unrelated to that process.


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