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Viewpoint: The state and feds collaborate to improve health of Idaho's forests

Idaho's state forester testified before Congress about the relationship between drought, wildfires and forest health.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho's wildfire seasons are 30 to 60 days longer than in past decades because of the changing climate. That's what Idaho's state forester recently told a congressional subcommittee.

State Forester Craig Foss recently testified before a House Committee on Natural Resources subcommittee about the relationship between drought, wildfires and forest health. He said more than eight-million acres of Idaho's forestland are in declining condition, leaving them at high risk of insect problems, disease and wildfires.

Foss also talked about collaborative efforts to fix that. In December of 2018 the state of Idaho and the U.S. Department of Agriculture entered into what's called a shared stewardship agreement.

Under the agreement, the state and the U.S. Forest Service pool resources, share expertise and make decisions to improve the health of forests across Idaho.

For this Sunday's Viewpoint Foss talked about that collaboration and efforts to improve forest health to reduce the risk of wildfires. Those efforts include logging and thinning, prescribed burns and restoring forests by planting new trees.

"There's an awful lot of federal land out there. It touches all of us. It's not just a federal problem. It our problem, and we all need to roll up our sleeves and look at how we can work on that together," Foss said. "So Idaho started looking at what are our opportunities, what are our initiatives that will enable us to come alongside our federal partners and hopefully be part of the solution."

The collaborations aren't only among government agencies. Private forestland owners are involved, too. They can get grants to thin the trees and remove underbrush in the woods around their properties and homes. Statewide Shared Stewardship Coordinator Ara Andrea says forestry experts lead them through the process.

"Their purpose is to provide that outreach, education, contact the landowners and they go out and do a site visit," Andrea said. "Giving them the technical assistance, showing them what needs to be treated, how to do it, and then we have means of offering financial assistance to private landowners in these targeted areas to get the treatment done. As a team we bring in the operators to get the work done and it gets completed."

In his testimony before Congress, Foss also called for more funding for climate change research, forest management, wildfire prevention and reforestation, in other words, planting a lot of trees. He says it will take many years of work to restore forested watersheds in Idaho.

Viewpoint airs Sunday mornings at 6:30 on KTVB.

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