Climate cracks showing in Nevada pine nut harvest

BAKER — Along a dirt road just north of Great Basin National Park, Dayer LeBaron plucks a cone from a pinyon tree and shakes its contents into his calloused hand.

The pine nuts almost shine in their varnished, dark-brown husks, but all he can see is their size. These are Nevada soft-shelled pine nuts; they’re supposed to be bigger than this.

“There’s definitely something going on,” says LeBaron, a commercial harvester from El Paso, Texas. “Being in these mountains for 40 years, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I know something’s going on.”

In pinyon groves on public land across eastern Nevada, the annual commercial pine nut harvest is well underway. For decades, several small, family-run outfits have made a business out of collecting and selling a crop they don’t cultivate on land they don’t own.

But the work isn’t easy, and the yields aren’t what they used to be. All it takes is an insect invasion or a sudden change in the weather to turn a good year bad. LeBaron says he’s been seeing more of both lately, something he blames on climate change.

The 53-year-old father of nine has been harvesting pine nuts in Nevada for most of his life. He joined his father in the forest for the first time when he was 7, collecting nuts from pinyons along Baker Creek in what is now the national park.

LeBaron now runs the family business his dad started as a hobby in the late 1950s, but the future does not look promising.

He is one of just six commercial harvesters left in Nevada, and “it’s going to be down to three in the next 10 years,” he predicts. “The honest truth is in Nevada, it’s a dying thing.”

TRADITION IN THE TREES

Each year, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service open sections of pinyon forest to commercial harvesters who bid by the pound for the right to collect pine nuts.

“It’s a sustainable, organic product from Nevada,” says Katie Walsh, an Ely-based natural resource specialist for the BLM. “I think it’s a pretty cool thing.”

The Nevada soft-shell pine nut comes from a distinct species of single-needle pinyon tree found in mountain ranges across the Silver State. The nut is larger and easier to crack and peel than the double-needle, New Mexico variety, but there isn’t as much demand for it.

LeBaron says raw, unshelled Nevada pine nuts generally retail for $10 to $12 a pound, while the New Mexico type can go for $30 to $40 per pound.

Most of the pine nuts Americans eat in pesto or on pizza come from Asia.

LeBaron sells most of his product through his website, wholesalepinenuts.com. His biggest market is in Utah, where the Nevada nut has become a holiday staple in the 160 odd years since Native Americans introduced it to Mormon settlers.

“Not having these pine nuts at the holidays, it’s like taking away the turkey at Thanksgiving or Santa Claus at Christmas,” he says.

This year’s commercial auction on Aug. 9 in Ely drew six harvesters who paid a total of $31,625 for the privilege of collecting up to 126,500 pounds of pine nuts from 11 patches of forest in eastern Nevada.

“It’s the same people every year,” Walsh says of the bidders. “They’ve been doing this for generations, and they’re kind of experts at it.”

You don’t have to be an expert. Individuals and families are free to harvest up to 25 pounds of pine nuts annually on lands managed by the BLM or U.S. Forest Service. No permit or payment is required as long as the nuts are for personal use, not for sale.

Walsh says she tried her hand at harvesting this year, but wound up covered in pine sap with maybe a pound of nuts to show for her trouble. “Next time, I’m going to bring a ladder,” she says.

‘ROUGH ENVIRONMENT’

For LeBaron, pine nut season begins in June, when he travels to Nevada from his pecan orchard in El Paso to scout for patches of forest he might want to bid on. Those trips often cover 5,000 to 7,000 miles on highways and back-country dirt roads from one end of the state to the other.

This year, he bid $7,500 to collect 30,000 pounds of pine nuts from Sacramento Pass, in the Snake Mountains about 300 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

The harvest began in late August, when the cones were still green and closed up tight.

LeBaron says he started with about 30 pickers — most of them migrant field hands or construction workers from Las Vegas, California and Arizona — but only about a dozen remained by the end of September.

The job requires camping in remote parts of the forest for days on end, he says, and not everyone is cut out for spending that much time in the elements. “It’s a rough environment to be in,” he says. “We’ve had severe cold and snow storms that shut us down completely.”

LeBaron says a typical tree will produce between 5 and 10 pounds of pine nuts. A typical harvester, working from the ground or atop a ladder, can collect at least 60 pounds of nuts a day, plucking the cones one by one from the tree and dropping them into a picking bag hanging at the waist.

Depending on the weather, LeBaron hopes what’s left of his crew can keep picking cones through October, though the most productive part of the season is already behind them. As soon as the cones turn brown and open on the trees, all it takes is one strong gust of wind to shake the branches and scatter the nuts on the ground, where they become food for wildlife.

“Once that happens, it’s over for us,” he says.

The nuts they collect are cleaned and packaged for shipment at a temporary camp near an alfalfa field in Eskdale, Utah, just across the border from Nevada.

This is where LeBaron spends most of his time, filling orders and tinkering with the pine nut processing machine he designed about 10 years ago.

The vending-machine-sized contraption can wash and sort 2,000 to 3,000 pounds in an hour, finishing the product with a short burst of fire to burn off the pine gum without cooking the raw nuts. Work once done by hand over the course of several monotonous hours now takes just minutes.

He hopes to build a fourth and final prototype — one that works twice as fast — in time for next year’s harvest.

“That machine is going to go in the pine nut museum,” LeBaron says.

A VANISHING BOUNTY

Commercial harvesters need to innovate if they hope to survive the changes now underway in the pinyon forests, he says.

“When you go back to the mid-’70s to like the early ’90s, we would come out here and we would always find mountains dripping down with cones. That was year after year pretty much,” LeBaron says. “After the ’90s, things started changing a lot. The weather wasn’t consistent, the mountains were getting hotter than usual, the snow packs weren’t lasting as long.

“When you lose that, … you start getting plagues and you start getting all kinds of other issues. I’ve seen those cones eaten up in early spring by the beetles, which is something you never saw in the ’70s and the ’80s. Never.”

And climate is only part of the problem. He says government regulation also has taken a toll over the years, as prime harvest areas were locked away inside federally designated wilderness.

That adds variability to a business already at the mercy of Mother Nature.

LeBaron says pine nuts were plentiful in Nevada two years ago, but last year’s harvest was almost nonexistent.

The current crop looks more like it did in 2014, though a significant number of cones are bug-eaten, hollowed out or filled with undersized nuts.

“This year we had a really good crop coming on, and then it got suppressed due to weather issues: like the size of the nuts, the size of the cones, too many hollow ones,” LeBaron says. “We have some product, but it’s costing more to produce and it’s harder to get.”

Walsh from the BLM says more study is needed to determine how climate change might be impacting the health of Nevada’s pinyon juniper woodlands. That research is now underway as part of an effort to create a sophisticated model of Nevada’s climate, she says.

LeBaron says he doesn’t need to wait for the data.

“A lot of people call it global warming. I don’t know if it’s global warming,” he says. “Call it whatever you want to call it. Something has changed in these mountains.”

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

ad-high_impact_4
News
Father-Daughter Relationship Inspired UNLV Grad's Research, Career
Breanna Boppre is UNLV's first doctoral graduate of criminal justice. She grew up having to visit her father in jail and has used that experience to pursue her studies in criminal justice reform and improving the incarceration system.
UNLV Surgeon Performs Successful Rare Pancreas Surgery
Las Vegas resident Mary Duda underwent a pancreatoduodenectomy, or Whipple procedure, for her pancreatic cancer. While the grandmother of 19 recovered, her doctors say she's one of the lucky ones. Pancreatic surgery can be risky and has a high morbidity rate. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Las Vegas police explorer sentenced to 25 years to life in prison
Former Las Vegas police explorer Joshua Honea sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for sexual assault of a minor, but was allowed to remain free on bail pending appeal. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Golden Knights Fans Line Up to Grab Their Conference Champions Gear
Golden Knights fans lined up at City National Arena Monday to snap up Conference Champions gear and other memorabilia the day after the Golden Knights won the Stanley Cup Conference Finals. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas-Review Journal)
Las Vegas shooting survivor has surprise reunion
Oct. 1 mass shooting survivors Taylor Stovall and Parker Gabel meet for the first time since Gabel helped the injured Stovall to an ambulance the night of the shooting. Stovall, then 17, was shot in the arm. They met Friday at the Tropicana.
Hawaii volcano presser
Talmadge Magno of Hawaii Civil Defense gives an update on the Kilauea volcano
Same-Sex Weddings on the Rise in Las Vegas
Allie and Tara Shima finally tied the knot. They've been together for five years and have both been married before. This time, they wanted something simple, quick and cheap, but it still had to feel special. The couple chose Las Vegas. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Courtyard Homeless Resource Center begins building in Las Vegas
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and Ward 3 Councilman Bob Coffin kicked off the demolition of buildings where the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center will be built. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
"Yanny" or "Laurel" hearing test has gone viral
'Yanny' or 'Laurel?' This Hearing Test Has Gone Viral This hearing test has gone viral on social media with some hearing "Yanny" while others swear hearing "Laurel." The voice is actually saying "Laurel," but the pitch was changed, causing some to hear "Yanny."
LVMPD Briefs on Year's Sixth Officer-Involved Shooting
Las Vegas police have identified the officer who shot a shovel-wielding woman on Saturday as 23-year-old Ondre Wills.
Police release body camera footage of shovel-wielding woman
Las Vegas police identified the woman they said threatened neighbors with a skillet Saturday night. Officer Ondre Wills, 23, shot at Sommer Richards, 34, multiple times on Big Sur Drive, near Nellis Boulevard and Desert Inn Road. Police responded to the area after receiving reports that the woman was armed with a shovel. Police said the woman chased neighbors and a security guard. Wills got between Richards and the others and repeatedly told her to drop the shovel. The woman instead turned and moved toward a person who was standing nearby before the officer fired shots. Police said she bit another officer as he attempted to render aid. Richards remains in serious but stable condition.
College of Southern Nevada Graduates 2017-18 Class
The College of Southern Nevada's graduation ceremony was held at the Thomas & Mack Center Monday. The 2017-18 class was the institution's largest in history. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Metro looking for suspect in bank robbery.
On Jan. 22, a man robbed a bank in the 8700 block of West Sahara Avenue.
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee at opening of U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, at opening ceremony of U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, speaks about the violence in Gaza. (Debra J. Saunders/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Supreme Court strikes down law banning sports betting outside Nevada
The Supreme Court has overturned a federal ban on sports gambling. States other than Nevada will be allowed to provide bookmaking and betting at casinos and race tracks. Justice Samuel Alito said Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, “each State is free to act on its own.” The vote was 6-3. One research firm estimates that 32 states will likely offer sports betting within five years.
Westcare Clinic Crucial to Las Vegan's Addiction Recovery
Christian Hunt, 21, was sent to Westcare in September after he ended up on drugs and in the hospital. If it weren't for the nonprofit's Community Triage Center, Hunt said he would still be using drugs. Instead, he's been sober for six months, and stopped using methamphetamines seven months ago. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Foundation Provides Full Rides for Clark County Students
Somewhere along the banks of the Ohio River in Owensboro, Kentucky, a group of students from Sin City are pursuing a higher education. Feature on the 38 Clark County students that the Rogers Foundation has given full rides to for Kentucky Wesleyan College. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Flames engulf house in Henderson
Clark County firefighters battled a house fire early Friday morning in Henderson. The house, located near Volunteer Boulevard and Executive Airport Drive, was fully engulfed in flames about 2 a.m. Shifting winds sent massive plumes of smoke across the southern Las Vegas Valley sky. As of 3 a.m. , the cause of the fire was not known and no injuries were reported.
Harvey Weinstein’s Estranged Wife Speaks Out for First Time
Harvey Weinstein’s Estranged Wife Speaks Out for First Time Georgina Chapman was profiled for 'Vogue’s' June issue, speaking on her estranged husband for the first time since he was accused of sexual assault in October. Georgina Chapman, to Vogue Georgina Chapman, to Vogue Chapman, who has two children with Weinstein, also said she has been seeing a therapist and that has helped her move forward. Georgina Chapman, to Vogue Georgina Chapman, to Vogue Read the full profile on Chapman in Vogue’s June issue or online at Vogue.com.
Bark-Andre Furry the dog is a Vegas Golden Knights hockey fan
The furriest fan of the NHL's Vegas Golden Knights is growing into a social media sensation. Bark-Andre Furry the Jack Russell terrier has thousands of followers on Twitter and Instagram. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Suspect Sought In Robbery Attempt
Attorney Gloria Allred on case against Benjamin Sparks
Attorney Gloria Allred is representing the victim in a "sex slave" case against GOP political consultant Benjamin Sparks.
2018 Las Vegas Review-Journal High School Journalism Awards winners
Some winners of the 2018 Las Vegas Review-Journal High School Journalism Awards receive their awards.
Weather Balloon Collects Key Data
Meteorologist Chelsea Kryston discusses the Las Vegas National Weather Service's balloon carrying a radiosonde that collects temperature, humidity and pressure readings.
'Avengers: Infinity War' to Cross $1 Billion Mark
'Avengers: Infinity War' to Cross $1 Billion Mark And it will have done so faster than any other film in history. The Anthony and Joe Russo directed film has only been in theaters for eight days since its Apr. 27 release, and it’s already raked in $905.1 million at the worldwide box office, including $338.4 million in North America. It will reach the milestone faster than ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens,’ which took 12 days to cross over the $1 billion threshold. ‘Infinity War’ is the 34th film to cross $1 billion at the global box office, not accounting for inflation.
Henderson Residents Fighting Their HOA
Sun City Anthem residents Tim Stebbins and Bob Frank were arrested by the Henderson Police Department for filing a false report of a crime after they claimed their HOA was hiding surplus assessments in a secret slush fund. Nearly a decade later, Frank is still trying to clear his name. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
UNLV Professor Retiring After 50 Years
Professor Bernard Malamud reflects on his 50 years teaching economics at UNLV and what it's been like watching to school and the city grow.
Donald Trump recognizes Jon Ponder of Hope for Prisoners
Former bank robber Jon Ponder, now CEO of Hope for Prisoners, is recognized by President Donald Trump at the White House Rose Garden. Debra J. Saunders/ Las Vegas Review-Journal
Motorcyclist suffers severe head injury
A crash early Friday morning has left a motorcyclist hospitalized with a serious head injury, according to Las Vegas police. The crash occurred in the southwest valley at Durango Drive and the 215 Beltway, and was reported around 1:30 a.m. Police are investigating and one lane of the eastbound 215 offramp has been shut down.
Woman stabbed in the stomach
Las Vegas police are looking for the suspect who stabbed a woman in the stomach during a street robbery Friday morning in the central valley. The 37-year-old woman walked into the 7-Eleven at 531 E. Sahara Ave., around 1:30 a.m. with a wound to her abdomen, according to police. She was taken to a local hospital and is expected to survive her wound. The stabber remains at-large.
Local
Underground home was built as Cold War-era hideaway
The underground house at 3970 Spencer Street is one of the valley’s most unusual homes built 26 feet underground in 1978 by Girard “Jerry” B. Henderson, who, planned to survive the end of the world there.
Lip Smacking Foodie Tours takes you where the locals go
Donald Contursi talks about Lip Smacking Foodie Tours, which offers walking tours of restaurants on and off Las Vegas Boulevard with food samples and tidbits of history about the places they visit.
Bump stock manufacturers under fire
The Justice Department said last month that it had started the process to amend federal firearms regulations to clarify that federal law defines bump stocks as machine guns.
Art Bell’s Top 10 Shows
A selection of radio host Art Bell’s most popular shows.
Longtime Las Vegas attorney John Momot dies at age 74
Criminal defense attorney John Momot, who represented mob figures and even played himself in the movie “Casino,” has died.
David Copperfield in court after man injured during magic trick
The attorney for a British man who is suing illusionist David Copperfield said his client suffered serious injuries after being called on stage during Copperfield's show at MGM Grand.
5 things connecting Las Vegas and Marilyn Monroe
1. Marilyn Monroe, known then as Norma Jeane, obtained her first divorce in Las Vegas at the age of 20 on September 13, 1946. 2. According to some biographers, Monroe lived at 604 S. 3rd Street for four months during the summer of 1946. The house has since been torn down and is now the site of a parking lot. 3. In 1954, Monroe almost married Joe DiMaggio in Las Vegas but the wedding was called off last minute. The wedding was to be held at the Hotel El Rancho Vegas which was located on the southwest corner of Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard. 4. Las Vegas has at least one road dedicated to the star. Marilyn Monroe Avenue is located in east Las Vegas and intersects with Betty Davis Street and Cary Grant Court. 5. There are currently more than 20 Marilyn Monroe impersonators for hire in the Las Vegas Valley.
Sir Richard Branson announces purchase of Hard Rock Hotel
Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, has acquired the Hard Rock Hotel with partners and plans to turn it into a Virgin-branded property by the end of 2019.
3 Centennial High School students killed in Calif. crash (Full)
Three Centennial High School students were killed Thursday morning in Southern California when their vehicle was struck by a suspected drunken driver while they were enjoying their spring break, according to a family member of one of the victims.
Retail Restroom Sexual Assault Suspect
Las Vegas police are asking for help finding a man they said groped a woman in a south Las Vegas Valley restroom. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Calvary Christian Learning Academy, “There was no fair warning.”
Samantha O’Brien, whose three-year-old daughter attended the Calvary Christian Learning Academy daycare, found out Monday night when her daughter’s teacher called about the school closing.
Mojave Max at Springs Preserve
File footage of Mojave Max at Springs Preserve. (Springs Preserve)
Companies bet their futures on cryptocurrency
Two Las Vegas entrepreneurs talk about finding their niche in blockchain enabled technologies and digital currency.
Solar panels reduce energy bill for CCSD
Wilbur and Theresa Faiss Middle School is one of 42 CCSD schools with solar panel installations, saving approximately $514,000 per year in energy costs.
Red carpet at MGM for Dan Reynolds Believer screening
Kats on the red carpet for the VIP screening of "Believer," the documentary by Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds about how the Mormon Church treats its LGBTQ members.
Driver dies in single-vehicle crash
One person is dead after an early Wednesday morning crash in the northwest valley. The single-vehicle crash was called in about 1:35 a.m. on Jones Boulevard just north of Deer Springs Way, according to Metropolitan Police Department Sgt. Robert Stauffer. The driver, who was the only person inside the vehicle, died at the scene.
Uber Health to Improve Patient Ride-Hailing Services
Uber Health to Improve Patient Ride-Hailing Services On Thursday, Uber launched its Uber Health platform for healthcare providers. Medical facilities, rehab centers, clinics and hospitals can book rides for patients from a centralized dashboard – no app required. According to Techcrunch, Uber Health general manager Chris Weber noted some 3.6 million Americans miss appointments due to lack access to reliable transportation. Uber’s endeavors into health care trace back to 2014, when Uber first offered on-demand flu shots in large markets across the U.S. Since then there have been similar efforts throughout the world, from diabetes and thyroid testing in India, to subsidized rides for breast cancer screening in the U.S., to many more. Last summer, over 100 healthcare organizations joined the platform during a private beta. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Events
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like