Teamwork and Good Neighbor Authority Helps Improve Forest HealthWednesday October 18, 2023
Boise, ID - On August 13, 2022, lightning sparked the Four Corners wildfire on the Payette and Boise National Forests near Cascade, Idaho. The incident management team deployed by the national forests contained the fire by mid-September of 2022, but it had already burned 14,000 acres.
Given that the incident occurred in a fireshed that presented great risks to nearby communities, leaving the dead and dying trees in the wildland urban interface (WUI) would create untold future wildfire risks for those living in the area.
That’s why a diverse team of forest resource specialists from the United States Forest Service (USFS), Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) and the forest products industry sprang to action. In the aftermath of the conflagration, they made plans to reduce the heavy fuel load left by dead or dying trees and restore critical portions of the forest to a healthy state. Together they identified a treatment area and quickly completed a thorough environmental analysis for salvaging dead, dying, and hazardous trees on 390 acres of the French Hazard WUI Project area.
“This project was implemented under a congressionally authorized joint federal and state program called Good Neighbor Authority,” explained Idaho State Forester Craig Foss. “GNA leverages the processes, expertise and resources of state and federal partners to restore healthy forests in critical areas, like fire sheds that threaten communities.”
Deep snow that accumulated during the winter of 2022 and 2023 meant the partners could not begin work on the ground until May of 2023. When the snow abated and the ground was sufficiently dry, IDL contracted for road maintenance with St. Clair Contractors LLC of Star, Idaho, who opened and improved existing roads within the sale area.
“By working together and utilizing private contractors, resource teams from the Boise National Forest and IDL foresters prepared this salvage sale in near record time,” said George Nuesse, a GNA Program Specialist and forester with IDL. “Fast tracking salvage operations ensures commercially valuable timber doesn’t rot and become worthless.”
In July of 2023 IDL offered 4.49 million board feet of salvage timber from the Hazard Salvage GNA timber sale to the highest bidder at public auction.
“We sell timber at auction to generate the highest return for the GNA program,” said Nuesse.
“Under GNA, proceeds from federally owned timber harvested in project areas fund the restoration work and fuels treatments,” added Nuesse. Excess funds generated from selling the salvaged timber are reinvested in GNA future forest health projects on other federal land.
Idaho Forest Group (IFG) placed the high bid as the gavel dropped, purchasing the Hazard Salvage GNA timber sale for $165,227.50. The mill hired High Country Logging from Council, Idaho, to harvest the dead and dying trees. Within a week Hi-County was hard at work and delivering sawlogs to IFG’s mill in Grangeville, Idaho.
According to Tom Schultz, IFG’s Vice President of Resource and Government Affairs, GNA is good for forest health and Idaho’s economy.
“By using the GNA program to salvage burned trees and rehabilitate the burned area, we are able to facilitate recovery and reforestation sooner. Overall, by acting quickly, forest health is improved and mills can recover value by processing logs into lumber, which contributes to a healthy economy,” said Schultz.
The Idaho Forest Products commission reports that for every million board feet of timber harvested, nine direct jobs are supported in the forest products industry.
When the salvaged timber is delivered to the mill, IFG processes it into dimensional lumber. “Little goes to waste because our mill uses advanced technology to maximize the yield from each log,” said Schultz. Sawmill residuals, including bark, chips, sawdust and shavings will be used to generate steam for drying lumber and will also be used for making paper products.
Approximately 40% of the Hazard Salvage GNA timber sale has been harvested to date. The salvage operation will likely to be completed by the end of 2023 or early 2024.
Since GNA was first authorized by Congress in 2015 the program has helped treat more than 14,000 acres of national forest land across Idaho and awarded $10 million in service contracts that support private sector jobs. GNA has brought nearly 150 million board feet of timber to market in Idaho and helped employ an estimated 1,300 Idahoans, mainly in rural areas.
Learn more about how the United States Forest Service and the Idaho Department of Lands collaborate under Good Neighbor Authority by visiting NoBoundariesForestery.Idaho.gov.