A small portion of Idaho County will be included in one of two “priority landscapes,” in which Idaho officials will partner with the U.S. Forest Service and others to plan and carry out projects designed to mitigate the risk of large wildfires, improve wildlife habitat and boost timber output.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced Monday the designation of the priority landscape areas, each exceeding 2 million acres, with one in southern Idaho and one in the northern half of the state.

The central Idaho area includes 2.3 million acres largely around McCall and other Valley and Adams county communities, overlapping into parts of Washington and Idaho counties. It includes 1.1 million acres of Forest Service land, 153,000 acres overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, 169,000 acres of state land and more than 800,000 acres of private land. The boundary pushes into southern Idaho County and includes state, federal and private land on both sides of the Salmon and Little Salmon rivers in the area hit by the 2015 Tepee Springs Fire.

The 2 million-acre northern Idaho priority landscape area surrounds both Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint, with about 1 million acres of private land, 621,000 of land managed by the U.S. Forest Service, 144,000 acres of Idaho endowment land and various other ownerships.

Former Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue signed a shared stewardship agreement last fall and pledged to work cooperatively across jurisdictional boundaries. Both state and federal officials have said the program aims to align project planning and implementation across ownership boundaries so the shared goals — whether they be reducing fire risk, improving water quality or wildlife habitat or increasing the number of logs that reach local mills — are better realized.

In the coming months, Little will name members of an advisory group to guide the process. According to a news release from his office, the group will include representatives of state and federal agencies, local counties, private landowners, the forest products industry and conservation organizations.

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

Exactly how the process will unfold is still a bit foggy. When Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen visited Moscow last month, she called it an “outcome-based investment strategy” and “getting multiple parties together and saying what is important for the state of Idaho, what are the values that we really want to protect first? Is it risk transmission to communities, is it keeping our mills supplied, is it watersheds health?” Christiansen said. “It can be all of those, but the state has a real voice and we share decision space, we scale up and we are going to match our efforts as all parties bring their tools, their expertise and the resources to bear so we are thinking of whole landscapes and whole communities.”

Peg Polichio, who oversees the Shared Stewardship Program for the Idaho Department of Lands at Coeur d’Alene, called the concept collaboration on steroids. Those involved will use the latest scientific and mapping tools available to determine the best places to implement things like timber sales and prescribed fires to alter overgrown forests. Polichio said there are more than 6 million acres of Idaho forests at risk of catastrophic wildfires and insect and disease infestations.

“We are not making much of a dent on the landscape right now in terms of changing the profile of our forests. They are overly dense and very susceptible to fire, so we are going to put all of our tools together and use really good science to figure out where on the landscape to get the biggest bang for the buck” she said. “We are not going to treat 2 million acres, but within that landscape ‘here are the lever points where we can treat and stop big fires where they occur.’ ”

More information, including maps of both priority landscape areas, is available at http://bit.ly/2JgIEeP.

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.

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