Forests At A Crossroads

Today's Decisions, Tomorrow's Forests
The U.S. Forest Service manages 20.5 million acres of land in Idaho including 12.8 million acres of timberlands. Idaho's national forests are at a crossroads. Decisions are being made about their future at every level, from District Ranger through the forest, the regional offices, and on up to Washington, D.C. You have a stake in this decision-making process. To help, we've provided this information about what's at stake., current forest conditions, how we arrive at this point and consequences of the decisions we make.

What is Forest Management?
Managed forests provide fishing and hunting, watershed protection, animal and fish habitat, recreation and forest products in a way that's both balanced and sustainable.
Providing this balance of sustainable benefits and products is the essence of forest management.

"National forests are unhealthy because they have the wrong kind of trees and too many of them. Forest management practices can be used to modify unhealthy forest stand conditions while protecting other forest values."
Dr. Jay O'Laughlin


Burned forests can be replanted and restored to health. Roads, along with trails into more remote areas, provide recreational opportunities for hikers, hunters, fisherman, campers and berry pickers. Mature forests provide a home for many wildlife species. Harvesting timber provides wood products, local jobs and monies for schools and roads.
Required guidelines called "Best Management Practices," to protect water quality and provide the next generation of trees. Reforested clearcuts grow trees that need full sunlight and provide food for many wildlife species from songbirds to bears. Trees bordering streams help keep water clear and cool. Selective logging works well to grow trees that prefer partial shade.

A Tale Of Two Forests

Northern Idaho -- Cool/Moist

In Idaho, our forests fall into two basic categories. Generally, Northern Idaho forests have evolved in a wet, cool climate. Southern Idaho forests tend to be drier and warmer. Altitude, soil type, snow, rainfall and average temperatures all influence the evolution of a forest.

Southern Idaho -- Warm/Dry

If forest health is a statement about trees at risk of mortality from insects, diseases, and wildfire, then much of Idaho's forest land is either unhealthy or on the verge of poor health, especially in the national forests that represent three-quarters of the state's timberlands.
Firs are the more prevalent trees in Idaho's forests, which were predominantly pines before European settlers arrived in Idaho. Firs are less resistant than pines to many insects and diseases as well as wildfire.
Prolonged drought in southern Idaho has weakened forests, making them even more susceptible to insect epidemics and wildfires. In northern Idaho, root diseases are affecting the growth potential of mature stands. In forests throughout the state, environmental, ecological, economic, and social values are at risk.
The situation can be changed by using forest management practices favoring pines instead of firs and reducing competition between trees by thinning, while protecting other forest values. Two obstacles to this course of action are public policy and public trust.


Managing National Forests for the Future: Choosing the Right Thing to Do

Management of the past
The national forest system was created over a century ago to provide water and wood for our nation. Soon after, the U S Forest Service was established to manage these lands. Fir the first few decades, national forests were managed in a custodial fashion. The primary objective was forest fire prevention and suppression. Following World War II, demand for lumber drove forest management as the nation housed a generation of new families. At the same time, the demand for forest recreation of many types grew along with the country's prosperity and population. Some recreational uses competed with traditional uses of the forest, raising questions about how our national forests should be managed.


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