Our nation’s forests are a valuable resource, providing thousands of products, recreational activities, wildlife habitat, and adding beauty to our surroundings. While forests are a natural ecosystem, because they are also a valuable commodity, they must be carefully managed to ensure they remain healthy and vibrant for generations.
During my Leadership Idaho Agriculture class’s first session in Moscow, in Northern Idaho we had a session on forestry in Idaho, and also had a field trip to Bennett Lumber Products in Princeton. I knew nothing about forestry, and very much enjoyed learning about Idaho’s forests and how they are managed.
In Idaho, there are about 23 million acres of forest land, including 16.6 million acres of timberland that is available for timber harvest. This is nearly 40% of Idaho’s total landmass, and the most of any state in the Union. The Federal government owns 80.5% of the forest land, and 77% of Idaho’s timberland, while the state owns 6.2% of the forest land and 7% of the timberland, and private ownership accounts for the remaining 13.3% of forest land and 16% of timberland. Many of the acres of forestland, 12.4 million to be exact, are held by the Federal and state governments as wilderness areas and reserves from timber harvest. 8.4 million of these acres don’t even have road access.
Each owner, federal, state, or private, has different goals that determine how the forest is managed. However, the Idaho Forest Practices Act makes renewability and sustainability a legal responsibility on all private and state lands. This law requires reforestation following a timber harvest, and to follow management practices to assure the protection of water quality, soils, and wildlife habitat. Harvests on private forest lands are inspected by the Idaho Department of Lands, and the compliance rate with the multiple rules and regulations of the Forest Practices Act is 97%. This demonstrates that private forest owners are working hard to ensure that their forests are well-managed, healthy, and will be around for generations.
Maintaining a forest to promote healthy growth, minimize fire risk, protect habitat and watersheds, and also provide timber is a complicated business. Without proper management, which includes harvesting trees, forests are at an increased risk for big fires. When trees are not harvested, they become overcrowded, with living, dead, and dying trees packed together. An overcrowded forest is an unhealthy forest, quickly spreading disease and pests from one tree to another, and, even more ominously, trees packed together equals a huge amount of fuel for forest fires.
When an overcrowded forest, like a large percentage of Idaho’s forests, ignites, the fire jumps quickly from the shrubs, downed trees, and low branches to the crowns of the big trees. Canopy fires burn hotter, spread quickly, and are more dangerous to fight. Fighting fires in poorly managed forests costs billions of dollars each year, and, unfortunately, fires often claim homes and lives as well.
Not only does managing a forest help prevent intense forest fires, but it also provides jobs and contributes enormously to the economy. Thinning is one management tool used to manage a forest, and is the selective removal of trees. In some areas, trees of a certain diameter might be removed, while in another, only trees that have little economic value might be taken out. Thinning allows the remaining trees more room to grow and increases their resistance to environmental stresses such as drought or insects.
Logging is another management tool for maintaining healthy forests. There are several different methods for logging, thinning being one of them, but lets talk about the most obvious – clearcutting. While it doesn’t look pretty, clearcutting is usually the most economically sensible option, and actually promotes growth and healthy forests. When an area is clearcut, all or most of the trees are removed, and the forest is regenerated by planting new trees or the seeds from healthy trees are allowed to naturally regenerate the area.
Clearcutting is also used to renew areas damaged by insects, disease, or fire, or to create wildlife habitat for a certain species. Additionally, areas with tree species that are prone to certain diseases or insect infestations can also be clearcut and replanted with a more resistant species of tree, or one more suitable for that particular area. In Idaho, the law requires that new trees be growing within five years after being clearcut, and that trees are left as a buffer around streams.
Most of Idaho’s state and privately owned forest lands are well managed through thinning and logging. About 8 million acres or 36% of Idaho forestlands, mostly federally-owned and managed, are overpopulated and need to be thinned and logged to promote healthy growth and reduce the fire risk. Differing rules and regulations surrounding federally-owned land prevents proper management of these forests, though we hope this will change to allow proper management of Idaho forest lands.
There is a huge amount of information out there about forestry management practices, and it could span a huge number of posts. For now, let this brief overview suffice, and enjoy some interesting facts about Idaho’s forests!
- The total impact of Idaho’s forest products industry in 2012 was to provide more than 19,000 jobs and more than $3.2 billion in sales!
- Idaho is the 10th largest lumber producing state in the union
- There are over 600 forest business in Idaho, including 255 manufacturing businesses
- About 84% of all the wood products manufactured in Idaho are exported
- State and private forests provide over 90% of the wood milled in Idaho
- Less than 1% of national forests are logged nationwide each year
- Idaho’s timber industry harvests 246 million cubic feet annually
- Idaho’s forests grow 2.4 times more wood than is harvested each year
- The Idaho Endowment Trust, which is primarily funded by timber harvest proceeds from state forests, provided $46.4 million to public institutions in 2012
I will be writing again on this subject soon, since I have so much information so please ask any questions you might have about forests and forest management, and I would be glad to answer them!
For more information on Idaho’s forests, please visit these sites:Idaho Forest Group: http://www.idahoforestgroup.com/
Idaho Forest Products Commission: http://www.idahoforests.org/
USDA Forest Service: http://www.fs.usda.gov/boise