Idaho officials on July 1 identified two sprawling areas in the state where they plan to work with federal officials, private parties and others in an innovative effort aimed at reducing wildfire risk and improving forest health.

A Dec. 18 shared-stewardship agreement between the state and USDA calls for cooperative, landscape-scale management irrespective of jurisdictional boundaries. The agreement builds on a 4-year-old Good Neighbor Authority in which the Idaho Department of Lands carries out land management projects on national forests.

Gov. Brad Little set a July 1 deadline for IDL and the USDA Forest Service to identify priority landscapes in the state’s northern and southern regions.

In the north, the selected area covers a variety of forest landowners and an extensive complex of wildland-urban interfaces where homes, infrastructure and communities may be at higher risk of wildfire. The 2 million acres lie in Boundary, Bonner, Kootenai and Shoshone counties.

The southern priority landscape encompasses 2.3 million acres in Adams, Washington, Valley and Idaho counties. It includes small communities and areas where rangeland  transition into forest.

“Idaho continues to pioneer new, collaborative efforts to protect our citizens and communities from wildfire,” Little said in a news release. “Working with our federal partners, private landowners and many others, the state will test this latest innovative approach so we can make a meaningful difference in the health of our lands and water.”

He plans to assemble an advisory group to best carry out the agreement. Appointees will be announced soon.

The shared-stewardship approach aims to double, by 2025, the number of federal forest acres in the state treated by mechanical means, commercial restoration methods and prescribed fire. Partners will focus on 6.1 million acres showing insect and disease infestation.

The state and Forest Service “will work in partnership to restore forest health in these priority landscapes using all available tools,” Intermountain Region Forester Nora Rasure said. “We are setting these priorities together while combining our mutual skills and assets to achieve cross-boundary outcomes desired by all.”

Northern Region Forester Leanne Marten said advances in mapping technologies, remote sensing and fire simulation tools enable land managers to evaluate the most desirable locations for projects. “These tools for scenario investment planning give stakeholders the science-based capacity to find opportunities for lasting improvements in forest conditions,” she said.

 “We must demonstrate in Idaho that we can target our investments, roll up our sleeves and work together to improve the resilience of our forests and our communities,” IDL Director Dustin Miller said. “This is good government — federal, state, and local governments and citizen forest collaborative groups pulling together to improve forest conditions and reduce fires near communities.”

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