JFAC gets update on Idaho forests

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Members of Idaho’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee listen to a presentation on the Good Neighbor Authority Tuesday as part of the committee’s spring tour. (Photo by MARY MALONE)

SANDPOINT — The health of federal forests is the focus of the Good Neighbor Authority, which expanded to Idaho with the Farm Bill, passed by the United States Congress in 2014.

David Groeschl, deputy director for the Idaho Department of Lands, updated Idaho's Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this week on GNA, which is a federal law that enables the United States Forest Service to work with IDL on restoration and resilient landscape objectives.

"It's pretty exciting to see where we've come from, where we are at today and where this thing is going, because it's growing at a pace that we were maybe hoping for — didn't necessarily expect — but it's growing leaps and bounds," Groeschl said.

JFAC made a stop in Sandpoint Tuesday during their spring tour, which hit the northern region for the first time in a few years, said committee co-chair, Sen. Shawn Keough. 

For fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1, the Idaho Legislature appropriated $250,000 in general funds to support the GNA efforts in the state. The money will be used to hire additional IDL staff to support the growing workload. The GNA budget also includes $250,000 in additional federal funds and $250,000 in dedicated funding from timber sales.

"Every other state model is dependent on a constant infusion of money into GNA, and we know that is not sustainable," Groeschl said.

In Idaho, he said, the goal is to use the markets to become self-sustaining after the first three to five years.

The purpose of GNA is to increase the pace and scale of forest and watershed restoration activities on federal forest lands. On National Forest System lands in Idaho, Groeschl said, 12.6 million acres are suitable for management. Of the 12.6 million acres, 8.8 million acres — 67 percent — are in the "high risk" category for insect and disease mortality. To date, he said, more than 4 million acres in the high risk areas are designated for treatment through the Healthy Forest Restoration Act.

GNA projects are underway, covering 10,000 in four Idaho National Forests — the Idaho Panhandle National Forest, Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, Payette National Forest and Boise National Forest.

"That's 65, 66 million board-feet of estimated volume, and program income is estimated at almost $14 million," Groeschl said.

In the Panhandle, GNA projects are focused on the Jasper Mountain area to restore 825 acres of forested lands to increase resilience to insect and disease infestations and reduce the risk of wildfires. Also, approximately 2,000 acres in the Hanna Flats area will be treated through thinning, prescribed burning and replanting. Jasper Mountain and Hanna Flats are located in the Priest River and Priest Lake areas.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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