A 40-acre grove of cedar trees near Lake Pend Oreille could be logged next summer to generate cash for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
With western red cedar prices trending near all-time highs, Fish and Game expects to bring in several hundred thousand dollars on the timber sale. That’s money that stays in North Idaho and can be tapped for other projects, said Chip Corsi, the agency’s regional manager in Coeur d’Alene.
But people who live near the grove are questioning why a wildlife agency would cut down 80- to 120-year old cedars. About 50 people have signed a petition asking Fish and Game to reconsider the sale.
Ali Hakala walked her dog, a golden retriever named Bodhi, under the towering cedars on Saturday morning. Mist rose from the forest floor while dim light filtered through the tree canopy. She paused near a stream to point out an osprey nest overhead.
“This isn’t what they call ‘old growth,’ but at the same time, these are very mature trees in excellent condition,” said Hakala, who has been working to call attention to the sale.
The cedars are healthy and still growing, according to core samples taken from the trees. Left untouched, the cedars would be stable for at least another 200 to 300 years, said Jeff Pennick, a retired forester with the U.S. Forest Service, who also opposes the sale.
“This is unique enough that it’s worth preserving,” Pennick said of the cedar grove.
The grove is on Sunnyside Peninsula, which juts out into Lake Pend Oreille northeast of Sandpoint. Hakala is one of six private property owners whose land encircles the cedar grove.
She’s seen moose and elk on the property. In the winter, white-tailed deer head to the grove to escape the deep snow.
But the lack of public access is one of reasons Fish and Game has targeted the parcel for a timber sale.
Without permission from private landowners, people can’t get onto the 40 acres, which limits the site’s recreational value, said Corsi, the Fish and Game manager. The grove has been logged in the past. No rare animals use the parcel, and it represents a fairly common forest type for North Idaho, he said.
“It’s a selective harvest that would leave a lot of big cedars,” Corsi said. “We think we can cut it and still have a nice stand of timber in there.”
Fish and Game owns or manages about 20,000 acres in the Idaho Panhandle. Money from the sale would be put back into the agency’s budget for wildlife management.
“We’re taking a hard look at the assets we have to do a better job of managing wildlife,” Corsi said. “Sometimes that means generating dollars from trees we can harvest in a responsible manner.”
Fish and Game is working with the Idaho Department of Lands on the timber sale. The agency also plans to selectively log a 12-acre parcel adjacent to the cedar grove, which has some “pretty nice, big Douglas fir and white pine,” Corsi said.
But the cedars represent the best value in terms of timber revenue. High-quality cedar logs are selling for $1,100 to $1,400 per thousand board feet, said Alan Harper, forest resource manager for Idaho Forest Group. The company is one of several Inland Northwest sawmill operators that buys cedar logs.
A rebounding housing market has increased demand for cedar siding and decking, which has helped drive up prices, Harper said.
Despite the revenue the cedars could bring to Fish and Game, Hakala and Pennick think there’s more public benefit in keeping the grove intact.
Most of the Sunnyside Peninsula is privately owned, which means the rest of the forest is actively logged, said Pennick, the retired forester. The cedar grove provides habitat not found elsewhere on the peninsula, he said.
Since Sunnyside Peninsula has a popular public beach, there’s the potential for a future easement across private land that could create a trail to the cedar grove, Hakala said.
“I absolutely support mills and the timber industry, but there are areas that should be left in natural forest,” she said. “This old grove is in a unique position to last many, many generations. We have the opportunity to preserve it.”
This story was updated to correct the name and breed of Ali Hakala’s dog.
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