By Keith Ridler
The Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho — State and federal officials have identified 6,700 square miles in Idaho to test a plan that allows state participation in federal timber sales to pay for restoration work on private, state and federal lands.
Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced that the U.S. Forest Service and state officials had identified landscape-scale projects in northern and west-central Idaho as part of a federal-state agreement called Shared Stewardship.
The agreement is intended to improve forest health and decrease the risk of disease and catastrophic fires.
“Idaho continues to pioneer new, collaborative efforts to protect our citizens and communities from wildfire,” Little said in a statement. “Working with our federal partners, private landowners, and many others, the state of Idaho will test this latest innovative approach, so we can make a meaningful difference in the health of our lands and water.”
Little also announced he’s appointing a 13-member advisory group comprised of federal, state and local officials as well as logging and environmental groups to implement the agreement.
Idaho signed the agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture late last year. Utah signed a shared stewardship agreement with the federal government in May, and other states have been moving in that direction.
Idaho is at the forefront of shared stewardship efforts, and the efforts announced July 2 could ultimately become templates for other states.
The area in northern Idaho includes parts of Boundary, Bonner, Kootenai and Shoshone counties. It includes areas where communities are considered to be at higher risk of wildfires.
The area in west-central Idaho includes parts of Adams, Washington, Valley and Idaho counties and covers small communities and where rangelands transition into forests.
“The state of Idaho and the Forest Service will work in partnership to restore forest health in these priority landscapes using all available tools,” Intermountain Region Forester Nora Rasure said in a statement. “We are setting these priorities together while combining our mutual skills and assets to achieve cross-boundary outcomes desired by all.”
Leanne Marten, the Forest Service’s Northern Region Forester, said advances in mapping technologies and fire simulation tools allow workers to identify the best areas for various projects, allowing “opportunities for lasting improvements in forest conditions.”
Idaho has already been doing some collaborative work with the Forest Service under a program called the Good Neighbor Authority.
But officials said landscape-scale projects are needed to treat 6.1 million acres of national forests in Idaho that are at risk of insect infestations and destructive wildfires.
That called for much larger efforts and led to the shared stewardship agreement.
“We must demonstrate in Idaho that we can target our investments, roll up our sleeves and work together to improve the resilience of our forests and our communities,” said Dustin Miller, director of the Idaho Department of Lands.