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Partnerships aim to improve health of Idaho forests as fire season lengthens

State Forester Craig Foss says 8 million acres of Idaho's forestland are in declining condition, leaving them at high risk of insect problems, disease and wildfires.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho's wildfire seasons are 30 to 60 days longer than in past decades because of the changing climate. Idaho's state forester recently explained that link to Congress, adding how partnerships are working to reduce the risk of fires by making Idaho's forests healthier

State Forester Craig Foss testified before a House Natural Resources Subcommittee about the relationship between drought, wildfires, and forest health.

He says more than 8 million acres of Idaho's forestland are in declining condition, leaving them at high risk of insect problems, disease and wildfires.

But collaborative efforts are currently underway to fight that. 

In December  2018, the state of Idaho and the U.S. Department of Agriculture entered into 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. 

"There's an awful lot of federal land out there. It touches all of us. It's not just a federal problem. It's our problem, and we all need to roll up our sleeves and look at how we can work on that together," State Forester Craig 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 are not 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, Foss also called for more funding for climate change research, forest management, wildfire prevention, and reforestation.

He says it will take many years of work to restore forested watersheds in Idaho.

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