There are plenty of scars from the firestorm of 1991 on Lynn Bodine’s place.
The trunks of the surviving Douglas fir and ponderosa pine are charcoal black, as are the spindly lodgepole pine climbing the hillside out back. Another 50 acres of trees on top of the hill were leveled by the blaze.
Bodine wasn’t home. And the house was saved only because an alert hired hand turned on the irrigation sprinklers in the nearby alfalfa field and put a few sprinklers on the roof.
Bodine won’t rely on luck again. With help from the Idaho Department of Lands, Bodine thinned and salvaged some of the remaining trees. He and a neighbor planted 80,000 seedlings on their 175 barbecued acres.
Bodine now has a 10-year plan for taking care of the private woodlot that complements his alfalfa, bluegrass, canola, barley and wheat crops. Before the fires, “we had done very little logging,” Bodine said. “When a fire comes through, it changes your thinking about lots of things.”
With the fifth anniversary of Firestorm ‘91 looming, the Idaho Department of Lands and the Washington Department of Natural Resources are trying to persuade more small-scale timber owners to shape up their woodlots.
The land management agencies have $160,000 in federal money to help people like Bodine plant trees, improve streams and wildlife habitat and control erosion.
This special pool of money is targeted toward some of the 400 landowners in the Hauser Lake watershed in Idaho and the Thompson Creek/Newman Lake watershed in Washington. Part of the program is showing that the problems and benefits of thoughtful forest management in watersheds transcend state lines.
“What one neighbor does affects another,” said Kirk David of the Idaho Department of Lands. For example, when “you remove cover from the upper end of a watershed, that water comes off quicker in the spring - the forest is a water bank, releasing it slower.”
The watershed angle is important because these two watersheds feed the Spokane-Rathdrum aquifer - which in turn provides drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people.
Private woodlot owners also end up with less fire danger and healthier forests, David said.
The federal government first started providing financial assistance for small timberland owners with the 1990 Farm Bill.
Nationally, private individuals own 350 million acres of forest land - more than all of the government agencies and timber companies combined, according to the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
In Washington, that translates to 4.5 million acres of private timber ground. In Idaho it’s 2 million acres.
There’s more than just financial assistance. The two state agencies will provide foresters and other experts to help people decide everything from what should be logged to ways of making their land better for the deer and the bluebirds.
The program is voluntary and it’s bureaucratically simple. Participants only have to deal with one agency - either the Department of Lands in Idaho or the Department of Natural Resources in Washington.
About 70 landowners in Spokane County have used the program in the past few years and Stevens County counts 50 participants. In Kootenai and Bonner counties it numbers in the hundreds.
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