Around this time each year we celebrate our outdoor world and natural environment. From Arbor Day to Earth Day, I am reminded why Idaho’s natural resources are a keystone to our history and our future.
Our forests are important not just this time of year, but to us all at any given moment in time. They provide clean water we drink and clean air we breathe. They sequester carbon in our atmosphere and provide building materials that store carbon over time. They provide habitat for our fish and wildlife and recreational opportunities from hiking to hunting and biking to bird-watching.
With 40 percent of the state covered in trees, Idaho’s forests are plentiful and beneficial to the state’s economy. Idaho forests provide tens of thousands of jobs and billions in revenue for our state through the manufacture and sale of wood and paper products, forest management and recreational services. There are also “down-stream” benefits known as ecosystem services that are not usually identified by economic value. Through active forest management we can accomplish even more. With management we improve forest health and reduce fire risk that threatens not only the forest, but the lives, homes and livelihoods of our citizenry. Improved forest health has a direct correlation to water quality, fish and wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities.
Idaho’s forests supply the building blocks of our state. Forest products are a green, renewable, energy efficient building material. Around the globe commercial buildings are now using wood to replace non-renewable materials like concrete and steel. Tall buildings constructed of wood are energy efficient and provide carbon sequestration, reduced labor costs and diverse, beautiful design options. Idaho, with high quality timber supplies, multiple species and an established forest products infrastructure, will be a leader in this revolution in sustainable commercial buildings.
Arbor Day represents the renewable life cycle of Idaho’s forests. The base of every forest is its trees, and in Idaho, for every tree harvested seven are grown for the future. These growing trees stabilize the soil, preventing erosion into our streams, and provide clean water and sustainable aquacultures. At maturity, some trees are harvested and provide the materials for our economy to grow – logging, mills and production, construction, homes, businesses — all from the start of that cycle. And the end becomes the beginning as one is replaced by many to continue the cycle. For each tree harvested in Idaho, seven are growing for the future.
Idaho’s forests matter today, they matter tomorrow and long into our future. From the casual user to those with forest-related livelihoods, I am hopeful all Idahoans will see the forest as part of a bright, sustainable and renewable future for our state. I encourage everyone to make Arbor Day a part of your everyday life.
Kurt. S. Pregitzer, is Dean of the College of Natural Resources at the University of Idaho.