Conservation Corner: Idaho forests — the true wealth of Idaho

By Sarah Garcia
Reader Columnist

When you hear the word rainforest, does North Idaho with its snow-covered landscape and temperatures hovering well below freezing spring to mind? More likely you’re now daydreaming of a tropical locale. There are three types of rainforests: tropical, temperate and boreal. The designation as a rainforest comes from the amount of precipitation a forest receives. Tropical rainforests are very warm, wet places found near the equator that receives up to 13 feet of rainfall annually! Boreal rainforests are characterized by long harsh winters, short summers, and an average precipitation between 15-40 inches, primarily from snow melt. Temperate rainforests receive between 36-120 inches of annual rainfall and a moderate average temperature range (50-75 F). Typically, temperate rainforests are found near coastlines and consist of a mix of deciduous, broadleaved and coniferous evergreen trees. 

A 3D imaging map of the inland temperate rainforest. Courtesy image.

Although rainforest is not usually a term used to describe Sandpoint, it is an accurate one. The Idaho Panhandle is part of the world’s only inland temperate rainforest. According to the nonprofit Canadian conservation organization Wildsight “The Inland Temperate Rainforest covers 40 million acres and stretches 700 miles in a broad arc from central Idaho to Prince George, British Columbia.” Our moderate average annual temperature (57.3 F) and above average annual precipitation (30-81 inches) including an average 52-inch snowfall per year, are ideal conditions that resulted in North Idaho’s rich timber history. Sandpoint has always been a timber town, and as a community, we continue to walk a fine line of protecting our natural resources, maintaining the beauty of our community, while balancing the need for economic growth. Our forests have long proven to be the wealth of North Idaho, and the same is true today! 

The timber species most synonymous with Idaho is the Western White Pine, our state tree. When logging made its way to the Idaho Panhandle our forests were dominated by massive Western White Pine. However by the early 1930s beetles, blister rust fungus and logging had taken their toll. Since then, blister-resistant Western White Pine has made a comeback as a result of extensive research and strategic planting of genetically modified seedlings.  Ponderosa Pine is the quintessential pine, with an extensive root system including a large tap root that allows them to tolerate drought prone sites. This pine is also one of the most fire resistant of our native trees as the basal bark can grow up to 3 inches thick at the base. Western Larch is often known as “Tamarack”, but this is misnomer, with true Tamarack being much smaller and growing predominately in boggy areas of the northeast.  The Western Larch is Idaho’s most root disease resistant and only deciduous conifer. This sun-loving conifer is ideal for regeneration in burned or heavily logged open areas. Like the Ponderosa, the Western Larch has an extensive root system with a large tap root that makes these species both drought tolerant and wind-firm, as well as their thick fire-resistant basal bark. Douglas-Fir is another common native species that is both shade and drought tolerant. Mature Doug-Firs also have fire resistant qualities. The hearty versatile characteristics of Idaho’s native conifers make these species a great fit for local forest owners.

There are many factors in maintaining a forest’s health, these measures can include: diversifying your species, tree planting, pruning, pre-commercial thinning, and commercial thinning. If you are a landowner who owns timberland the Bonner Soil and Water Conservation District and our NRCS partners are available to help you with forest management decisions. We can provide resources, technical assistance, tree seedlings and cost-share programs.

Are you interested in planting seedlings this spring? The conservation district has native tree seedlings available in groupings of 5-360 trees. This seedling program was created to provide quality native seedlings to private landowners in our community to meet their goals for forest management health. Whether your focus is sustainable timber production, a more balanced ecosystem on your land or wind, noise and sight barriers, we are happy to assist you with determining which conifer species will best meet your goals. 

Sarah Garcia is the District Administrator for the Bonner Soil and Water Conservation District. BSWCD can be reached at (208) 263-5310 x100

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