OROFINO, Idaho (KIFI) – In July 2021, the Cougar Rock Complex wildfire burned through about 2,600 acres of endowment trust land managed by the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL). The fire damaged 140 million board feet of predominantly high value cedar.
Burned timber must be harvested within a few short years to retain any value. As it degrades, its value depreciates.
“The lack of a road system for harvesting inside Benton Butte coupled with the active fire suppression on the site made planning salvage operations difficult,” IDL director Dustin Miller said.
But IDL team members out of Orofino were up to the challenge and acted quickly to salvage the valuable timber. The first timber salvage sale sold in September while the fire still burned. During a two-year period, a total of six cedar salvage timber sales went to auction. All six sold, a testament to the agency’s efforts to bring the timber to market before it decayed.
The entire Clearwater Area team worked together to get the sales to auction in a timely manner.
"The salvage sales were definitely a challenge. The timber was difficult to get to and required harvesting by helicopter,” said Keith Brink, Resource Supervisor on the Clearwater. “It was mostly high value cedar that we could not let go to waste."
The salvaged timber helps support three endowment beneficiaries, Public Schools (K-12), University of Idaho, and Charitable Institutions.
“They deserve to get the highest possible value out of the timber," Brink said.
It's rare for a government agency to bring salvage sales to market so quickly. Of the 55 million board feet from Benton Butte sold to date, 30 million was harvested and removed by the end of 2022.
Perhaps even more impressive was IDL’s reforestation effort at Benton Butte. Seedlings were planted as soon as the burned and dying trees were removed on three of the cedar salvage timber sales. Last month crews planted approximately 170,000 seedlings while harvesting operations were still underway.
"We take our promise and commitment to the endowment beneficiaries seriously. It is our responsibility to make these timberlands sustainable for our kids, grandkids, and great grandkids. Getting burned timber sold and harvested quickly after a fire lets us replant without delay and keep our forests growing for the next generation," Miller said.
Endowment Lands are different than other types of publicly managed land. In accordance with Idaho’s Constitution, it is held in a legal trust for the sole purpose of financially supporting specific beneficiaries, primarily public schools. The Idaho Constitution requires endowment lands to be managed to maximize revenue for the beneficiaries.