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Eye On Boise

Otter touts lands partnerships, as Idaho auctions first fed timber sale under ‘Good Neighbor Authority’ law

Gov. Butch Otter sent a guest opinion out to Idaho newspapers today touting recent moves by the state to use partnerships to prevent wildfires on public lands. He points to this week’s first-ever auction of a federal timber sale by the Idaho Department of Lands, the Wapiti timber sale in the Nez Perce National Forest, under a federal law known as “Good Neighbor Authority.” The law allows the U.S. Forest Service to partner with the state across ownership boundaries, to work on restoration projects aimed at making the lands more resilient. The state is now working with the Forest Service on a second Good Neighbor Authority agreement for a project in the Payette National Forest. Under the federal law, the Wapiti timber sale went through full NEPA review.

The Idaho Department of Lands reports that the 216 acre, 4.44 million board foot timber sale went for $1.42 million after competitive bidding, and sold for $620,000 over the appraised price.

The 2014 federal farm bill expanded GNA to all states, and authorized governors to identify national forest lands in their state in need of work due to high risk of insect and disease damage. Otter submitted 1.8 million acres of designations to the Forest Service, and they were accepted in May of 2014. “Before Good Neighbor Authority, Idaho could not legally help the Forest Service with the enormous and complex job of restoring our national forests,” Otter wrote.

This year, Otter and the Legislature approved adding three positions at the Idaho Department of Lands to prepare and administer GNA timber sales in Idaho. It’s a collaborative effort that has proceeded quietly, separate from the political fight over controversial and unsuccessful calls to get federal public lands transferred to states.

Here is the governor’s full article:

IDAHO IS FIGHTING WILDFIRES THROUGH THE POWER OF PARTNERSHIPS

By Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter

            Diverse interests are working together in unprecedented ways in Idaho to improve the health and resiliency of our lands.

            Our goal, in part, is to reduce large wildfires that cost taxpayers millions of dollars to suppress, damage wildlife habitat, pump millions of tons of carbon into the air, pile sediment into our waterways, hurt our economy, and harm the health of our citizens.

            The Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) auctioned a federal lands timber sale for the first time in Idaho during the past week.  It was a milestone for the State of Idaho in working with the U.S. Forest Service, timber companies and other forest partners on an “all lands” approach to restoring forested lands in Idaho and providing additional wood to sustain Idaho’s forest products industry – our mill operators, loggers, and truckers.

            The Wapiti Timber Sale on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests is the first of several forest restoration projects planned in Idaho using Good Neighbor Authority, a federal law extended to all states under the 2014 Farm Bill that enables the Forest Service to work with states to achieve landscape objectives across ownership boundaries.

            Other projects are planned for the Payette National Forest in west-central Idaho and the Idaho Panhandle National Forests in northern Idaho.

            Before Good Neighbor Authority, Idaho could not legally help the Forest Service with the enormous and complex job of restoring our national forests.

            Federal, State and private lands are intermingled in Idaho, so management practices on federal lands inevitably affect neighboring State and private lands. Idahoans wasted no time before taking advantage of the opportunities presented by Good Neighbor Authority.

            IDL forestry professionals are skilled and efficient in managing nearly 1 million acres of state endowment forests for long-term health and sustainability. Selling timber from endowment forests helps fund Idaho’s public schools and other State institutions.

            We are lending IDL expertise in preparing and administering timber sales, conducting field layout for timber sales, and collecting data to augment Forest Service efforts. The State of Idaho, the timber industry, and the federal government all have pitched in and provided commitments of time and money to increase the pace and scale of forest and watershed restoration projects happening on federal lands in Idaho.

            Wildfire is influenced by three factors: weather, terrain and fuels. Only fuels can be managed.

            While some firefights dominate headlines for months, few people know that State and federal fire managers suppress hundreds of additional wildfires every summer in Idaho before they get bigger than a few acres. Many of those fires are stopped because proactive management robbed them of fuels along their path.

            While Good Neighbor Authority is a godsend, it is not the only way in which State and federal authorities are working together to restore the health of federal lands in Idaho.

            Idaho ranchers have been working with the Bureau of Land Management and IDL since 2012 to set up rangeland fire protection associations to assist with quick initial attack of fires. That has resulted in nearly 8 million acres across southern Idaho that now receive primary or secondary fire protection from the people who live and work on the land. Idahoans’ work with federal agencies to create fire breaks to prevent habitat loss for sage-grouse is yet another example.

            There is no Washington, D.C. mandate behind the cooperation happening in Idaho. Partnership is happening here because Idahoans are results-driven people – including those in positions of leadership within State and federal agencies in Idaho.

            Like me, Idahoans can be proud of the terrific progress happening in our state because of our desire to roll up our sleeves and put planning into action for the improvement of our environment and the benefit of our people.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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