Idaho Master Forest Stewards Discuss Climate Change

By Chris Schnepf

People standing in front of a sign
Family forest owners make up a very large percentage of forested lands in many Northwest counties. (Photo – C. Schnepf)

Extension programs and other adult education efforts are almost always stronger when learners are actively driving program development. Learner enfranchisement is especially critical on topics such as climate change, which may be seen as controversial.

The University of Idaho has a master volunteer program titled the Idaho Master Forest Stewards (IMFS) which is based on a Participatory Action Research framework, a strand of qualitative research that emphasizes participants as partners in research and extension efforts. In 2008, a steering committee composed of family forest owners spent two one-day retreats to provide the initial guidance to the program, which continues to be led by Idaho Master Forest Stewards, with assistance from UI Extension and other agencies, with the ultimate goal of improving Idaho family forests’ health and growth.

People sitting around a tabl
Idaho Master Forest Stewards discussing climate change with a panel of University of Idaho faculty. (Photo – C. Schnepf)

Idaho Master Forest Stewards go through 70 hours of training to become certified volunteers, and get 15 hours annual continuing education (a standard set by the IMFS volunteers) to remain certified for the next. One of Master Forest Stewards’ continuing education options is through annual spring and fall IMFS meetings, which are designed by Idaho Master Forest Steward volunteers. Past meetings have included tours of lumber mills, a tribal fish hatchery, reforestation seed orchards, and silviculture on a variety of ownerships. Recently, the volunteers decided they wanted in-depth content on climate change and forestry implications.

On September 22nd, 2017, 34 Idaho Master Forest Stewards met in Moscow, Idaho to learn about climate change and forest management implications. The following University of Idaho faculty spoke to the group:

  • John Abatzoglou gave “An Orientation to Climate Science,” discussing climate change fundamentals, climate models, natural (volcanos, natural cycles, etc.) vs. human factors affecting climate change, the difference between climate and weather, and the effects of small temperature changes on snowpack, streamflow and other values associated with forests;
  • Tara Hudiburg presented on “Mitigating Climate Change – How Forests Store Carbon,” sharing information on carbon budgeting and the different effects of forest fires and logging on carbon;
  • Penny Morgan talked about “Preparing for Climate Change and Forest Fires,” including the effects of climate change on forest fires in the Inland Northwest, and western forests’ responses to those fires;
  • Greg Latta gave an “Update on Carbon Markets”, outlining the structure of how these markets work, as well as their history and current status; and
  • I reviewed approaches to “Adapting Family Forests to Climate Change”, such as enhancing forest resilience, assisting migration, managing forest roads for storm events, and experimenting in family forests. I concluded by introducing citizen science tools available to family forest owners such as CoCoRaHS (the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network) and the National Phenology Network.

The meeting concluded with a group discussion led by Steven Daley Laursen, faculty in the UI Department of Natural Resources and Society, on tips for engaging citizens on climate change. Master Forest Stewards, like other Extension master volunteers, are generally comfortable with science, and the long relationships between the volunteers contributed to a safe environment for an active discussion about climate science, what that may mean in the context of forestry, and how to discuss it with forest owners who ask about it. The faculty enjoyed sharing their expertise with an attentive group of landowners and the volunteers enjoyed the experience as well, as Joan Mack, a certified Idaho Master Forest Steward since 2012, commented:

Last Friday’s meeting was fantastic. What a pleasure to be able to meet with other forest owners and share our concerns regarding the future of our forests. Panelists provided valuable information showing the trend of climate change through the ages made up with shorter periods of ups and downs. Definitely put things into perspective. Fascinating! Specifically, we have this opportunity to manage our forests for the challenges ahead. Add genetic diversity, choose flexible species for planting, promote connected landscapes and unique environments. Have fun and do some experimental planting. We are the care givers for the future forests.

This is a great example of an approach that is gaining broader recognition: In this case, a day’s investment by each participating IMFS volunteer garnered knowledge and perspective on climate change, and specific actions they can consider—and help their neighbors consider—to care for Idaho’s forests in a changing future. As my colleague Doug Finkelnburg stated in a recent article, such specifics are critical for ranchers—and in this case family forest owners—to change practices to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate.

For more information on the Idaho Master Forest Stewards program, go to the Forest Stewards website.