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Most people assume California or Hawaii have the cleanest electric grids. It turns out that Idaho is #1 for Clean Energy, based on 2019 data published in a report by the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

Yep, you read that right — Idaho has the cleanest electric grid in the United States, surpassing Vermont in 2019. This first-place position is further secured by a 20-year solar power purchase agreement that Idaho Power, Idaho’s largest utility, secured in 2019 for 120 MW of power at 2.2 cents per kWh.

But what does the “cleanest grid” actually mean? It means that within the U.S., Idaho has the lowest emissions intensity — or the lowest percent of energy coming from coal or gas-fired power plants. The state of Idaho generates more than three-fourths of in-state electricity from “clean” sources — primarily hydroelectric wind, and solar.

This already very clean grid has enabled the state’s utilities to set achievable emissions goals. Idaho Power, has set the ambitious goal of 100% clean energy by 2045. Many smaller utilities and municipalities across the state are targeting 100% clean energy by 2035. Why do carbon emissions goals matter to utilities like Idaho Power? A few decades of research show that climate change negatively impacts future profits. Less snowpack means less water in reservoirs in the late spring, which means less power generation from hydroelectric power plants during peak demand times — when we need to power summer air conditioning and agricultural irrigation.

But what would happen to our clean power status if some of the dams went away? For decades, salmon advocates such as the Nez Perce Tribe, Idaho Conservation League and others, have been pushing for dam removal to support the restoration of salmon populations on the Snake and Salmon rivers. Representative Mike Simpson just announced a $33 billion proposal to remove four dams on the lower Snake River, representing around 1,000 MW of power (on average) managed by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). While power from the dams on the lower Snake only accounts for 16% of Idaho’s power supply, there will be a huge net loss for the region overall. This begs the question: “What energy source will replace those dams? Where will this new clean energy come from?”

How about Idaho? Idaho is well poised to be a net exporter of clean and renewable energy.

Idaho is rich in wind and sun. With affordable, treeless land and ample desert winds, Idaho is a prime location for solar and wind. And, with utility-scale solar at 2.2 cents per kWh and wind at less than 2 cents per kWh, these renewable sources of energy are now less expensive than hydropower rates of 3.5 cents per kWh from BPA. The good news on solar is that it is most productive when we use the most energy (during the hot summer months). The catch is that these power sources are intermittent. The sun doesn’t shine at night and the wind doesn’t blow all the time, rendering affordable, recyclable batteries essential for a transition to clean energy. We will need lots of batteries — big, affordable ones. Idaho may have all the right ingredients to supply batteries too.

Idaho happens to be rich in minerals, particularly antimony — a critical mineral resource for battery technology. Stibnite, Idaho has one of the largest deposits of antimony in the world and the only known deposit in North America. Midas Gold is currently in the permitting process to mine both gold and antimony at the Stibnite site, a previously mined site that has a history of environmental contamination. The mining company has committed to restoration and clean-up, promising to leave the site better than they found it.

MIT professor Dr. Saddoway believes antimony is key to solving the renewable energy problem. He has been developing a utility-scale battery that relies on antimony. His solution would make the most affordable battery yet to be commercially available — enabling a full transition to wind and solar. The good news about these types of batteries is that they don’t “die” like a car battery. Their life-span is much longer and at the end of their useful life, all materials can be reused in other batteries or other applications.

However, the Nez Perce Tribe and local environmental groups doubt this can or will be accomplished. Environmental advocates are concerned about the risk to downstream fish habitat on the Salmon River, further harming fish populations. They have good reasons. Mining has a long history of causing serious environmental damage, particularly at the Stibnite mine site. The Salmon River is a Wild and Scenic River and the longest free-flowing river in the Northwest — un-tempered access to the Salmon River is critical for migrating salmon. This clean, free-flowing river is important not just for environmental reasons, but also for the Tribes who have historic rights to harvest salmon as central to their way of life. Salmon are an important part of our northwest ecosystem and economy. If the only North American deposit of antimony is in Stibnite, how might this valuable resource be brought into development in a way that preserves and protects our longest free-flowing Pacific Northwest salmon-run river?

Luckily, Idaho is also rich in innovation, particularly in the renewable and battery industry. Idaho is stepping into the cleantech spotlight with startups like Joule Case, Retrolux, Clenera, Inovus Solar (acquired by Solar One), Solar Roadways, Kore Power, and Inergy. Idaho also leads with some of the nation’s top energy research institutions, Idaho National Laboratory (INL), leading research and development in batteries, solar, and grid modernization.

Idaho is rich with smart, talented people working on the world’s biggest energy problems. The Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES), a collaboration between INL, Boise State University, University of Idaho, and Idaho State University, hosts over 8,000 researchers working to solve the greatest energy challenges. Also, Idaho hosts two large energy engineering firms, Power Engineers and McMillan-Jacobs, who are both leading in the energy innovation space. Additionally, Idaho is host to more than a dozen B Corp companies — all of which focus on using business as a force for good.

The Idaho Chapter of the CleanTech Alliance formed in 2020 to support these innovators and push for smart economic policy that will create jobs in cleantech industries. Idaho Chapter Chair, Leif Elgethun says “Cleantech makes sense in Idaho. We have all the ingredients to build a thriving clean energy industry that will create tens of thousands of living-wage jobs, protect our low cost of energy, and ensure our water, air, and land are clean for future generations.” Elgethun and other Idaho CTA members are working with local leaders to position Idaho for investment in cleantech startups, leading to long-term jobs and economic resilience for Idaho.

Might there be a way? What if battery technology companies, mining companies, energy producers, tribes, policymakers, and environmentalists came together to look at how local, sustainable battery manufacturing might be made possible to support renewable energy systems? What if all all the key stakeholders sat down, put their heads together, and planned Idaho’s clean energy future.

Some have suggested a collaboration with Idaho National Laboratory and others to develop a battery co-fab facility or even invite a large battery manufacturer to build a facility here. Alternatively, Idaho could invest in start-ups, supporting the growth of innovators, like Joule Case, Kore, and Inergy. Kore has been looking for a site to locate a large battery manufacturing plant. Joule Case (currently manufacturing in Garden City, Idaho) is also developing a large mobile battery system. Funding could come from Representative Simpson’s plan for a $1.25 billion Snake River Center for Advanced Storage. This facility is proposed to be located in Lewiston/Clarkston, providing a much needed economic boost to the area. Also, a facility located near INL would also make sense as well.

Idaho should invest in Idaho. China invests billions into their startups. Canada invests in their startups as well. Unless we consider doing the same, we will quickly be outshadowed. Borrowing from an innovation fund model in British Columbia, Canada — the State of Idaho could set aside $10 million in funding, managed through the Department of Commerce. This year alone, through smart fiscal responsibility, Idaho had a record surplus of more than $600 million. Through a vetting process, the Department of Commerce would select five startups, to receive investment of two million each over three funding rounds. The intent would be to support commercializing cleantech (this could also include clean ag-tech) innovations.

Starting at $500k, each firm would receive up to $2,000,000 with the second and third rounds given once certain milestones are met. This would be a competitive process with a huge boost to our economy — leading to a growth in tech jobs — the kind of jobs that lead to greater overall prosperity for everyone. If the program is successful, it should be repeated. In Idaho, startups account for a huge portion of job growth, according to Kauffman Indicators of Entrepreneurship. We can turn a few of these startups into the next Micron or Simplot, if we invest wisely.

With an abundance of wind, sun, affordable land, good academic institutions, support for tech and cleantech innovation, as well as a great quality of life, Idaho is well-poised to take the lead as the clean energy leader. Inc. predicts that Idaho will be the next Silicon Valley with the growth in technology startups. Perhaps, by solving our global energy problems, we can do better for the world. We have the key ingredients to build a prosperous clean energy and technology economy while staying true to Idaho’s core values — a sense of community, security, healthy lifestyle, and stewardship of natural resources. While potatoes and microchips have been our legacy, with our current position as #1 in clean energy, it seems inevitable that our future is clean affordable energy — supporting our microchips, food manufacturers, and other industries for years to come.


Originally posted on Medium on 02/10/21  

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This article was originally posted to Idaho Business Review on January 8, 2019

By: Amber Bieg, Kelsey Jae Nunez, Deborah Hiller LaSalle and Sharon P. Grant

As a property manager or business owner, a key question often is: How do I increase profit without a huge upfront investment? While market forces and good marketing can drive up revenue, often the easiest way to increase profit is to reduce costs. It turns out that doing good for the environment, such as reducing water use, energy consumption, and waste, saves significant money in the commercial real estate sector. And it’s more than just fixing leaks. According to several federally funded studies, commercial building managers who implement energy efficiency improvements save an average of 35 percent on electricity.

“Sustainability” is gaining traction in Idaho’s business sector, as demonstrated by increased social impact reporting (see Simplot’s sustainability report on industrial energy reductions), carbon emissions targets (see Idaho Power’s Sustainability Report) and renewable energy goals (such as Clif Bar’s goal for 100 percent green power). Sustainability focuses on doing good for the world – meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations – while ensuring profit. Companies like Clif Bar have found that a solid commitment to sustainability improves operational performance, employee retention, reputation and overall business integrity, which in turn increases revenue.

How to start? For most property owners, a logical approach is to start with operational changes. During the 2013 Boise Kilowatt Crackdown competition, 47 buildings identified 390 capital and operational improvements to save energy and money. The common themes that emerged as opportunities for improvement were:

  • Controls and equipment are not operating as intended.
  • Exhaust fans are running when spaces are unoccupied.
  • Temperature setpoints and other settings need to be optimized.
  • There is still a lot of inefficient lighting out there!
  • Envelope air leakage is higher than expected.
  • Most building managers are not tracking how much energy their building used.
  • Building managers are not taking full advantage of Idaho Power tools and services.

Participants learned from these outcomes and became strategic about capital improvements. For example, when Oppenheimer Development Corporation (ODC), one of the largest property managers in Boise, needed to replace a chiller in a downtown office building, they took advantage of an Idaho Power program that can cover 75 percent of the cost to develop an energy model and analyze building energy use. They purchased a new, more energy efficient and technologically advanced chiller that was one-third smaller. That saved upfront costs and long-term operational costs. According to Coby Barlow at ODC, “We are still taking advantage of the energy model as we consider upgrades. It is tough to bite the bullet all at once. We are just now implementing the remaining recommendations (five years later).” The energy savings in this building have totaled approximately 20 percent so far.

Saving energy directly impacts the bottom line, and there is a strong nexus between water and energy use. In Idaho, delivering water to tall buildings takes energy to pump. Often water and wastewater treatment are two of an industrial user’s or municipality’s biggest energy expenditures. Applying that knowledge to office buildings means that switching to low-flow fixtures and using less water (especially hot water) results in direct savings on operating expenses for water AND energy.

Cost savings also come from managing properties in a way that produces less solid waste. The management of the waste and disposal all costs money. And, with an increasingly interconnected global world, there’s no more ignoring the fact that there is no such thing as “away.”

In 2017, China stopped accepting recyclables from the U.S., placing an increased burden on domestic landfills, where dumping rates range from $25 to $120 per metric ton. It costs money to deal with waste, which is why a growing number of companies are starting to look at zero waste programs to stop waste before it is generated. The key to saving money while reducing environmental problems is to design systems that are easy to use and build new cultural habits in workplace buildings. Easy opportunities include having water refill stations and encouraging employees to bring in reusable water bottles.

The supply chain is another target area for savings. Bring skepticism into decisions about what products are brought into facilities and offices. Do those products need to be there? Why? How much does it cost to dispose of them? Can they be delivered in reusable packaging? Are there local suppliers available to reduce the need for superfluous transportation, minimize resource consumption, and support the local economy?

By supporting suppliers that share a commitment to environmental stewardship, building managers promote the sustainability that the commercial world desperately needs. For example, Beth Israel hospital in New York City saved $800,000 per year by implementing waste reduction practices, with a key focus on supply chain management.

Property managers do not have to be in this alone and should consider partnering with tenants to pursue sustainability. Tenants can take on responsibility for switching to low-energy light bulbs, reducing wasted standby power, replacing outdated appliances and electronic equipment, and reducing water and waste. And in addition to these first steps, what really moves the needle is the shifting of values and perspectives, so that all building occupants are acting with environmental awareness.

Changing your tenants’ values might sound like a major endeavor, and when compared to changing a light bulb to a more efficient alternative, it is. But the effort is worth it because, ultimately, changing the context in which humans naturally make choices returns better results. And it’s not as complicated as it may seem at the outset. There are a number of ways to start bringing tenants on board:

  •  Leverage an existing campaign, such as Energy Star or Idaho Power Energy Efficiency kits and tips for businesses.
  •  Set efficiency goals or consumption limits that tenants are required to hit or incur surcharges.
  • Ask tenants for ideas and input, giving them a stake in sustainable solutions.
  • Incentivize if necessary; reward and positively promote sustainable behavior.
  • Use recognition as a powerful tool to motivate tenants to take efficiency and other sustainability actions.
  • Test ideas for tenant engagement in one property and/or with tenants most likely to be receptive, and replicate the success at other properties.

Taking advantage of opportunities for positive interaction with tenants around efficiency and sustainability may help retain tenants, as well as boost the environmental performance of the building. Additionally, once you’ve got your property on the track toward true sustainability, you may find that you begin to attract tenants that are good stewards, not just to the planet, but to the property you manage – creating ongoing positive feedback loops in the property management sustainability cycle.

Once you’ve decided that it makes sense to explore the profit incentives associated with sustainability, create a strategic plan that targets the low-hanging fruit first that provide immediate cost savings – enabling sustainability initiatives to pay for themselves. Then utilize the skill sets of your team to optimize the benefits of your program. These are the tactics sustainability consultants develop while finding ways to help save money by improving building and operational efficiency through reducing energy, water and waste.

Because human habits run deep and resist change, even when it’s for the better, many organizations hire sustainability consultants to help design behavior change and system change programs that ensure solid sustainability traction. It’s highly beneficial to work with a sustainability expert to develop a strategic roadmap to sustainability to help identify priorities, low-hanging fruit and ultimately optimize profit, while becoming a better steward for the community.

Warm Springs Consulting is led by managing partners Amber Bieg (MBA), Kelsey Jae Nunez (JD/MPP, LEED GA), and Deborah Hiller LaSalle (JD). The company’s focus includes strategic and organizational planning, sustainability strategies, economic feasibility studies, comprehensive waste assessments, greenhouse gas inventories and renewable energy integration. 

Sharon Patterson Grant (LEED AP BD+C, CSBA) is the owner of Eco Edge, which provides research, analysis and outreach on energy codes, as well as training and facilitation.  


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Warm Springs Consulting became a Certified B Corporation in 2018. We were certified by the non-profit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. We’ve evaluated how our practices impact our community, the environment, our customers, our employees, and contractors to reduce overall environmental impact and maximize social good.

B Corps are a new type of company that subject themselves to a certification process that ensures they use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. B Corp certification is to business what Fair Trade Certification is to coffee to ensure fair prices are paid to developing country producers.

Today, there are over 2,200 Certified B Corps around the globe, including our Boise friends Oliver Russell, Flynner Properties, and Treefort Music Festival! We are proud to join them in redefining success in business standing for all businesses to be a force for good, providing fertile soil and ripe crops for the seeds sown. To learn more about our certification, check out our B Corp profile.


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This story was originally posted on Medium here.


I can’t pinpoint when exactly it happened, but it was sometime in 2007 when I stopped being a victim of sexual harassment in my professional life. Yes, I still get an occasional cat call on the street or an obnoxious ass grab in a nightclub — that type of harassment will probably continue until we have a massive cultural awakening. Like many other women in work environments around the world, I was seen and treated as someone that others could take advantage of, make comments about or degrade in a sexually objectifying way.


However, in 2007, it all changed. It wasn’t that I just stopped “playing the victim” or “showed up with more badassery” — no, the sexual harassment actually stopped — and it stopped overnight. It didn’t decrease. I didn’t see it from a different perspective or interpret men’s actions differently. It actually stopped.


After reading a number of #MeToo stories, processing and sharing my own sexual assault survival story, and deep conversations around power and gender dynamics, I finally arrived at an answer to the question: Why did it the sexual harassment stop in 2007?


Before I begin, it’s important to remember that sexual harassment and assault is ALWAYS about POWER.


I am no stranger to sexual harassment in the workplace. Some of the worst offenses happened in the early 2000’s at the beginning of my professional life, when I was teaching high school. A colleague of mine said aloud to a classroom full of teenagers that Ms. B (me) was a “hot piece of ass.” This was exclaimed loud enough for me to hear as I walked past the open door of his classroom. Students later told me that he said worse things to them when I wasn’t there. I reported him to the school administration, but he had tenure and it was difficult to fire a science teacher in Alaska — as it was really hard to find teachers. To supplement my teaching salary after I moved to Arizona, I also worked at Sullivan’s steakhouse, a high-end restaurant chain that catered to businessmen. On a slow night, one of the managers said to me “I bet you don’t wear panties under your skirt.” He then made the V-signal with his fingers licking his “hand crotch.” Another manager at this same restaurant actually grabbed me by the hips and pulled me onto his lap at an after-closing event where he was intoxicated and entertaining a wine distributor. I ended up pouring a pot of hot coffee on his lap and was fired on the spot.


In 2007, on short notice and in the act of standing up for myself and the integrity of the organization I worked for, I quit my job. I had been working as the fundraiser for a small non-profit whose Executive Director engaged in some very self-serving and bullying behavior, as well as financial mis-management. When I finally confronted him about not honoring his word on a performance-based raise he had promised me as well as some missing funds from donors, he skirted the missing money conversation and then smirked at me and replied, “Did you get it in writing?” clearly letting me know that I was in no position to challenge his gaslighting. I had finally had enough. I wrote a letter to the board of directors, resigning from my job and blowing the whistle on all I had witnessed. This ultimately led to the firing of my boss, who was escorted by security out of the building.


In order for my words to carry the weight of truth, I felt had to quit my job. I couldn’t wait until I had another job lined up — I had to act decisively and without hesitation. I leapt into the void of financial uncertainty. I was terrified. Living in one of the most expensive cities in the world on a non-profit salary, I was barely making my rent each month. The fear that I would fall flat on my face was almost paralyzing.


At this point, it’s critical to acknowledge the role of privilege in choice. I am writing this from the perspective of a woman with privilege. While terrifying, quitting my job in 2007 wasn’t a choice that would leave me destitute. I might not be able to pay my rent or buy food, but I wouldn’t have been hungry or homeless for very long — if at all. If worse came to worse and I couldn’t find another job, I could move out of San Francisco and go live with my family in New Mexico. When I quit my job, I was an attractive, intelligent, articulate white woman with a college education and no kids. I had a lot of things that would make it easy for me to survive.


Of course, as often happens when one has privilege, things worked out better than expected. I launched my own business instead of looking for another job. Within a short time, I had three significant clients for my consulting business (Green Ideas) and over $1 million in funding for a startup software platform I had started developing (


So what changed? I gained access to power. It wasn’t just internal power or only external power, it was bothMy external position of power relative to men changed and at the same time something deep inside me fundamentally shifted.


I didn’t realize it at the time, but taking this leap to start my own businesses moved me into an externally validated position of power. I was the now the boss. Not one of the people who worked for me or with me dared even consider making a sexual advance toward me or speak to me in a demeaning way. Perhaps one reason was because I surrounded myself with outstanding individuals . . . which was definitely the case. But I had agency to do so because I was now in a position of privilege and power. It was my choice of who to hire. It was my choice who I worked with.


You cannot have power without choice. Which means that the empowerment of women must include enabling women to have choicesFinancial sovereignty is one of the keys to choice. I define “financial sovereignty as the ability to make choices that support one’s happiness and wellbeing — with the option to leave unhealthy situations (such as jobs or relationships), while having the economic means to support those choices.


The key to stopping sexual harassment toward women and making the #metoo movement a moment in history is the empowerment of women, both internally and externally. Women’s empowerment does not mean the disempowerment of men. More women moving into places of power is about a balancing — not a taking away of male power and privilege. Those that are truly powerful never have to seek power over or take power away from another person.


Yes, we need more women in positions of power to rebalance the power inequalities. Women can abuse power too. And we all need to be very careful how we manage power. Power, no matter who has it, there is always the temptation for abuse. True mastery is walking that fine line. As Eleanor Roosevelt wrote on behalf of her husband FDR, “ . . . great power involves great responsibility.”


To help move the needle on rebalancing the power dynamic, my business partners and I have developed an 8 month workshop series on Women, Money and Power. To learn more visit:

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Warm Springs Consulting was hired in April 2017 to coordinate Safeguarding Idaho’s Economy in a Changing Climate, a first of its kind, two-day statewide summit to explore market-based solutions for businesses and communities to mitigate or adapt to changes in natural resources, economics, and culture.

WSC used Human Centered Design to support the client in clarifying the target audience for the summit. The vision is for businesses to lead conversations and build upon innovative ideas to understand economic risk to Idahoans and explore economic opportunities and efficiencies. WSC is managing all aspects of the event including agenda, speakers, marketing, fundraising, logistics, and stakeholder engagement.

To ensure the summit is uniquely positioned to advance the conversation around a changing climate in Idaho, WSC has developed Human Centered Design workshops and trained statewide facilitators to work with speakers and summit participants to create workable market-based solutions for Idaho.

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Posted to Triple Pundit by Amber Bieg Monday, Nov 9th, 2015

What if your investments reflected your spiritual values? What if you put your money where your heart is?

RSF Social Finance is helping pave the way for investors and entrepreneurs to incorporate their values and even spirituality into their investing practices.  The company’s goal, as President and CEO Don Shaffer recently communicated at SOCAP 2015, is to transform the way the world works with money. Its way of doing this is by creating an entirely new model for investing — a model based on humanness and relationships, rather than the impersonal “business is business” approach of the current financial model. This new model is based on openness, transparency, aligned values, personal relationships and education.

RSF has worked to achieve this by creating an institution that functions both as a bank and a foundation. The company chooses to work only with social enterprises it finds to be inspiring and that need investment but may not be able to acquire loans from conventional banks.

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Marketing as Design Thinking? Why yes, of course! How many times have you seen an ad that simply “misses the mark” or a promotion for a new product that flops? I bet that you don’t even notice it anymore it has happened so often. But why does it happen? Why are millions poured into an industry that really isn’t that good at what it does? Are marketers really that bad at their jobs?

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Reposted from Idaho Forest Products Commission

Original post by Amber Bieg on April 12, 2017

The world’s oldest tree, a 9,550 year old spruce, was recently discovered in Sweden.1 This new-found spindly record holder is old even for a tree… right? Perhaps you are asking: How long does a tree live? While there are a few ancient giants (and dwarfs) who have seen humans move from tribal life to the modern industrial world, most trees don’t have much more than human lifespans. Like animals, the lifespan of a tree depends on its species.

The previous world record holders were the dwarf-size 4,845-year-old and 5,062-year-old Great Basin bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva) in the White Mountains of California.2 In contrast, the Western White Pine (Pinus monticola), the Idaho state tree, has been known to have a lifespan of up to 350 years. This tree reaches its full height of around 150 ft at 150 years.3 Even with the western white pine there are exceptional ancients. A western white pine (on the White Pine Scenic Route at the Giant White Pine Campground) died in 1998 at the ripe age of 600 years.4 Like other living things, after reaching maturity, a tree’s health starts to decline and it can be subject to disease or other problems. Blister rust, for example, is a common problem for the white pine and when added to the other forest diseases, has become a serious threat to the health of our forests.5

But talking about one species and a single tree’s life-span, you only see the tree and not the forest. Unless planted in cities where they are maintained by people, trees typically live in forests which are complex renewable systems – a system in which many things depend on each other in order for life to continue in a healthy balance. Trees can’t just live on their own; they would die. Like people, trees need a diverse community of other living things that provide them food, shelter, and water.

Forest Succession CycleForests constantly change over time in a dynamic natural process called “succession.” As with people, trees start with conception (seed), moving into birth (sprout), then infancy (seedling), growing rapidly as a youth (sapling), maturing into adulthood (mature), aging to elderly (decline), and then finally arriving at death (snag/rotting).6 Like baby humans, young trees need the protection and nurturing of older trees, nutrients from soil provided by beneficial fungus and insects, water pulled up via bigger trees and plants’ root systems as well as mulch from forest debris. The healthier the forest, the healthier the tree and longer the lifespan. However, as trees move into decline and death, they can harbor disease or even be a danger for those who work or play in the forest. The term “widowmaker” refers to a hazard limb or tree that is at risk of falling on a forest worker – sometimes causing fatalities. While rotting “nurse logs” can be the nutrients for saplings, they can also be hosts for disease and fuel for forest fires.

For millennia, natural disturbances like fire, wind, ice storms, and insect outbreaks have created diversity in ecosystems by interrupting the reproductive cycle of trees. Why is this good? Disturbances, including logging, wipe out disease and increase genetic diversity, which in-turn increases forest resiliency – allowing trees to live healthier lives for longer. Historically, in western forests before modern times, the most common disturbance was fire.

We now know that fire was an essential ingredient for a healthy forest. Before European settlers, ponderosa pine forests, for example, were open with a few dozen trees per acre. Today, we might have hundreds or even thousands of small trees crowded into the same area. All those trees have to compete for a limited amount of water and nutrients, making them more susceptible to drought, disease, and insects. Prior to European settlers, many Native American communities used fire to manage the forests to optimize forest health, so that the plants and animals would thrive. 7 8

Fires have severe social, economic, and ecological impacts and it has been a practice in the United States to extinguish forest fires for nearly a century. The result of a hundred years of fire suppression is that our forests are unhealthy and their survival is at risk.9Climate change related drought and high temperatures have increased the frequency and intensity of wildfires, threatening both property and forests in Idaho. Moreover, these hotter and drier summer conditions could reduce the range and health of certain tree species, increase their susceptibility to fire and possibly permanently destroy these forests.10

What can people do about this threat to our forests? We can help the forests through smart management. ‘Forestry’ is growing trees using art, science and application of management at certain points of succession. This means human involvement in the life-cycle of the forests. Logging may be the end of a tree but the beginning of a forest. When forests are harvested, Idaho law requires they be reforested within 5 years. The forest succession cycle continues.

Like most of North America, much of Idaho’s forests are not in a “natural” condition and haven’t been for over 100 years. Federal forests that have not been harvested and have been protected from fire are in severe decline. Modern policies have caused the current condition, causing as many problems as past overharvesting did. The cycle of forest succession continues regardless of human intervention. However, we should not expect to have healthy forests without disturbances.The question is what kind of disturbance is acceptable?

While Nature always takes care of itself in the long-run, Idaho forests are in trouble. It is obvious that humans need trees: For more than just the ecosystem benefits such as clean water, clean air, wildlife, fish and others, we use trees for building our homes, printing our books, and a host of other very useful things. Yes, people need trees! But with climate change, disease, drought, and ecosystem changes perhaps it’s time to ask the glaringly human-centric question, if we want to see healthy forests… do trees also need people?


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