BOISE – A massive timber salvage sale and logging companies opting to cash in on high prices resulted in a record 347 million board feet of timber harvested from state endowment lands during the last fiscal year, state officials say.
The timber salvage of about 40 million board feet from last year’s Elk Fire Complex that scorched 175 square miles is one of the largest in recent memory, said Idaho Department of Lands Director Tom Schultz.
That was in addition to the roughly 250 million board feet the agency sells each year, with companies having a three-year window to harvest. A strong export market and a domestic housing recovery that boosted prices for wood products spurred companies with state lands contracts to harvest in the fiscal year that ended June 30.
“We had a lot more volume harvested this year than what we sold,” said Schultz.
Idaho’s 2.5 million acres of endowment land contain about 1.1 million acres of forest with an estimated 5.5 billion board feet. Modeling, Schultz said, predicts that a sustainable harvest is about 250 million board feet annually.
That’s about how much the agency sells each year, but the harvest fluctuates, partly due to when companies choose to cut trees based on market conditions.
The Idaho Department of Lands is tasked with producing the most amount of money from the land over the long run, so it aims for sustainability. Most of the money from timber sales is deposited in endowment funds that benefit public schools. The timber harvested last year is valued at more than $72 million.
The fire salvage sale was held last fall and about 87 percent of those trees have been harvested, Schultz said. They consist of various species, including ponderosa pine and Douglas fir.
“If you can access the timber quickly you can still make boards out of that,” he said.
Most of the state’s forests are on a 60-year rotation for harvest. Several years ago the agency worked to harvest larger trees, Schultz said, partly in response to sawmills that have refitted to handle smaller trees.
“We in essence had too much in the old-stand class,” he said, noting those include trees with a 21-inch diameter and up. He said that in the current market, large trees can sell for less than they’re worth because fewer sawmills exist that can handle them.
“By far the most valuable tree species we have is cedar,” Schultz said, noting cedar logs can bring in four times as much as other logs. Cedar is valued for its resistance to rot, and most of the cedars cut in Idaho are made into telephone poles, he said.
Some of the most productive forests are in North Idaho, with much of that state endowment land being in large chunks rather than a checkerboard pattern found elsewhere.
Schultz noted that’s because Idaho, when it became a state in 1890, received sections of each township as endowment land. But because some land had already been claimed by the federal government, the state received some sections in other areas.
He said it appears someone working for Idaho who understood the value of forestlands was involved in the process of selecting good sections that are also adjacent, making for easier access.
More recently, at the start of this month, the agency began operating under new rules intended to reduce threats to the forest and increase economic, social and environmental benefits.
The Idaho Conservation League took part in creating the plan that requires more shade to be left along streams, which benefits fish and water quality.