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Idaho moves full steam ahead on helping to manage some federal lands

Idaho Gov. Brad Little talks about the state’s “shared stewardship” program during his keynote address to the Western Governors Association Working Lands Roundtable Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019, at Boise State University.
Idaho Gov. Brad Little talks about the state’s “shared stewardship” program during his keynote address to the Western Governors Association Working Lands Roundtable Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019, at Boise State University.

Climate change and years of fire suppression have left nearly 8 million acres of forest land in Idaho at risk from insects, disease and fire. About 6 million of those acres are federal lands.

Idaho last year launched what’s called a “shared stewardship” program to use state resources to assist the federal government in managing such activities as timber sales, forest thinning, fire breaks, tree cutting and prescribed burns on federal lands.

“As we look forward at … shared stewardship, the consensus — and it’s not 100%, but it’s pretty good,” Idaho Gov. Brad Little said Thursday, “is what are we going to do to reduce wildfires? What are we going to do to create sustainable economic opportunities with that active management? What are we going to do, most importantly, to improve the health and the resilience of Idaho’s forests and watersheds. And this has been a good example.”

Little was the keynote speaker at the Western Governors Association working lands roundtable at Boise State University, attended by state and federal officials, and private parties interested in land use policy in the West.

At his keynote address Thursday, Little announced members of a shared stewardship advisory committee, consisting of state government officials, elected officials, timber industry officials, Forest Service officials, conservationists and a tribal representative. Among them are state Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay; state Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens; representatives from the Idaho Forest Group, Bennett Lumber, Potlatch Deltic and Associated Logging Contractors; as well as representatives of the Payette Forest Coalition, National Wild Turkey Federation and Idaho Conservation League.

“The health of our forests is bigger than any one agency,” Little said. “It’s more than the Forest Service, more than the state Land Department. It’s more than big industrial timber, landowners and small landowners. It has to be looked at from a very broad scale going forward.”

After signing the shared stewardship agreement in December, the state this summer identified two areas for the program, one around McCall and one in North Idaho.

The North Idaho land encompasses about 2 million acres in Boundary, Bonner, Kootenai, and Shoshone counties. The area covers a variety of forest landowners and an extensive complex of wildland-urban interface where homes, infrastructure and communities may be at higher risk from wildfire, according to the agreement.

The McCall land includes 2.3 million acres in Adams, Washington, Valley and Idaho counties, and includes small communities and areas where rangelands transition into forest.

The shared stewardship agreement is an extension of the 2016 “Good Neighbor Authority” signed by the state and the U.S. Forest Service.

The idea is that the state, through the Idaho Department of Lands, can help the Forest Service, which has been beset by limited funds, with natural resource management. The U.S. Forest Service budget is becoming increasingly consumed by firefighting efforts, growing from $1.6 billion in 2016 to $2.4 billion in 2017. Spending so much on wildfire suppression diverts funds from other natural resource management.

“The dialogue between (Idaho Department of Lands) and forest supervisors and the forestry people are, you know, ‘Here’s a place over here where we need to do something,’” Little told the Statesman. “’We don’t have the silviculturist, we don’t have the guys to administer sale, you do it.’ And that’s what (Good Neighbor Authority) is all about, is providing the resources.”

Part of the shared stewardship goals is to double the number of acres treated on federal forests in Idaho by 2025.

Already, the state has worked on three timber sales under the Good Neighbor Authority, Little said.

The governor acknowledged that some land “supervisors are more enthusiastic than others, but for the most part, it’s moving along at a pretty good rate.”

Chris Swanson, deputy state supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who was in attendance at Thursday’s roundtable, said collaboration is already going on in Idaho.

“We work closely with the state, federal, private landowners and (nongovernment organizations),” Swanson said. “We’re right there, working collaboratively for the common good. We definitely rally behind making sure we have a working landscape.”

Scott McIntosh is the opinion editor of the Idaho Statesman. You can email him at smcintosh@idahostatesman.com or call him at 208-377-6202. Follow him on Twitter @ScottMcIntosh12.
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