OPINION: Idaho’s forests need us as much as we need them

Friday April 19, 2019

By the State Board of Land Commissioners

With 40 percent of Idaho covered in trees, the management of our forests affects us all.

All Idahoans benefit from the clean water, abundant wildlife habitat, recreation, and wood and paper products that healthy forests provide, along with many positive economic impacts.

Arbor Day is April 26, a time to celebrate the benefits forests provide us, but also a time to reflect on how forests depend on humans for their continued health through active forest management – the sustainable cycle of harvesting followed by replanting of trees and using fire as a management tool to reduce overgrown vegetation.

There are 21.4 million acres of forests in Idaho. About 10 million acres of federal forests in Idaho are overgrown, unhealthy, and prone to devastating fires.

Impaired forest health conditions and wildfire know no boundaries. As Land Board members, we oversee the management of one million acres of forested state endowment lands. The lands are a gift to Idaho in all they offer. Timber sales on endowment lands generate millions of dollars in revenue for Idaho’s public schools annually. Sustainable forest management practices ensure these lands will continue to benefit public schools and Idaho citizens for years to come.

However, 94 percent of forested state endowment lands border federal national forests in Idaho. Wildfire, insects, and disease move freely between federal, state, and private lands.

To address the forest health crisis in Idaho and maintain healthy state endowment forests for public schools, we directed the Idaho Department of Lands to work with the U.S. Forest Service, forest industry, conservation groups, and others to help improve forest conditions on a scale that matters.

The recently inked “Shared Stewardship” agreement recognizes that different land owners – federal, state, and private – need to work together to reduce the risk of fire and infestations of insects and disease in our forests.

The state and federal government are using spatial planning tools to identify, coordinate, and treat priority landscapes across ownerships. The result will be reduced fuels to protect Idaho communities from wildfire, improved forest health, and job creation in the private sector.

We are just getting going with Shared Stewardship in Idaho, but we are anchoring to our success with the Good Neighbor Authority, a related program that encourages collaboration, resource sharing, and a “get it done” approach to land management.

We all love forests. But most of Idaho’s forests need to be conserved, not preserved. Active, sustainable forest management is part of conservation. The steps we are taking with your support will ensure our forests are healthy for future generations.

# # #

The State Board of Land Commissioners (Land Board) is comprised of Governor Brad Little, Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, State Controller Brandon Woolf, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra.