By Rick Tholen and Kari Kostka
We wish to thank Idaho Statesman opinion editor Scott McIntosh for his recent four-part series on the condition and management of Idaho’s forests. As members of a statewide collaborative network called the Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership, which is dedicated to supporting local groups focused on restoring the health and resiliency of Idaho’s forests, we appreciate the fresh perspective you bring to this critical conversation.
We agree a forest health crisis exists in Idaho. We agree climate change is further contributing to problems on the ground and that there is no single or short-term solution. Progress will require prolonged and multi-faceted efforts — with involvement and support from all forest stakeholders — around sustainable strategies that are ecologically appropriate, economically feasible and socially acceptable.
We do not agree, however, that the state’s new Shared Stewardship Initiative is just the start of cooperative forest management in Idaho. Grassroots collaborative organizations, each with unique membership and geographic focus, began forming all around the state more than a decade ago to address the health of Idaho’s forests. These groups of various stakeholders, which include loggers and environmentalists alike, have moved beyond long-standing disputes and weathered the hard road of building consensus agreements around forest management.
There are currently 10 self-formed collaborative stakeholder groups in Idaho working to design and implement a broad spectrum of forest projects in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service. These groups are determined to make Idaho forests healthier and more resilient to insects, disease, wildfire and climate change through a variety of treatments, including commercial timber harvest, hazardous fuels reduction, prescribed fire and watershed improvements. They have been instrumental in the development of more than 50 forest restoration projects to date, ranging from a few hundred acres to more than 80,000 acres.
The state’s new Shared Stewardship Initiative is the next phase of collaborative forest management in Idaho. It is an opportunity to leverage the skills and resources of federal, state, tribal and private landowners at an even greater scale to accelerate and expand forest restoration and fuels reduction treatments on priority landscapes across the state. And, perhaps more importantly, across land ownership boundaries. These efforts will help make Idaho’s forests and adjacent communities more resilient to mounting threats like wildfire and climate change through effective and adaptive management.
The proven track record of local forest collaboratives in Idaho creates potential for larger wins through efforts such as Shared Stewardship and creates hope for the forests we all treasure.
We appreciate this ongoing conversation and encourage Mr. McIntosh and others to learn more about Idaho’s forest collaboratives and IFRP at our website: www.idahoforestpartners.org.