Thousands of Northwest jobs could come from new Forest Service plan

A sunrise over blue mountains. The mountains are dotted with evergreen trees.
A sunrise over the Rocky Mountains from Rocky Ridge Campground in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests on August 8, 2020 (Credit: Lauren Paterson / NWPB)



A new plan from the U.S. Forest Service could bring thousands of new jobs to the North Idaho region. 

The plan details future land management of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests including expanding recreation areas and logging for timber sales. These efforts could result in 4,000 new jobs over the next decade, said officials. 

“This could be jobs in the forest products industry, saw mills, people in the woods,” said Zachary Peterson, a public and government relations staff officer for the Forest Service.

The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests span four million acres from the Oregon border on the west to the Montana border on the east. Planning for more severe weather events in the Northwest is foundational to the development of the plan, Peterson said.

A color coded map in pink, green, brown, and gold shows the management areas for the Nez-Perce Clearwater National Forest on a large map.

The management areas for the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. (Credit: US Forest Service) USFS MAP

“Our growth and yield models all include the latest predictions for climate change,” Peterson said.

Plans include strategies to address the national wildfire crisis by reducing fuels and logging to thin overgrown forests. “The plan really views timber harvest as a byproduct of the restoration work that we need to protect our communities and improve the health of the forests,” Peterson said.

Only 20% of the forests are open to timber harvests, with 80% still restricted for uses, such as wilderness areas, said Peterson. 

Cheryl Probert, forest supervisor of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, said in a press release, “My goal was to find the sweet spot – a decision that best provides for the current social and economic needs while sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the forest for future generations.”

Peterson said, more foraging areas for gathering plants, berries and mushrooms could be a possibility.  Additional recreation areas also could mean more fishing guides or hunting outfitters in the region, said Peterson, about potential growth for local communities.

A brown and yellow sign reads "Powell Campground - Clearwater National Forest" and sits in green bushes surrounded by evergreen trees.

The Powell Ranger Station is located in Lolo, Idaho close to the Idaho/Montana border. Towns like Superior and Missoula on the Montana side could also see an increase in economic activity from the plan, Peterson said. (Credit: Lauren Paterson / NWPB)

“Our larger economic impact is really all of North Idaho,” Peterson said. “If you start looking at where we draw people for recreation, it’s really from the Boise area all the way north.”

Although the primary economic boost will mostly be felt in Idaho and Clearwater counties, Peterson said Montana communities along the Idaho border also will benefit. 

It’s not uncommon for the Nez-Perce Clearwater National Forests, with popular tourist areas, such as the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, to draw visitors from Spokane and Missoula, Peterson said.

Multiple organizations, communities, governments, and local people have weighed in as the plan has been developed over the years, said Peterson. “It’s really nice that we have such a diverse public who are really invested.”

The Forest Service expects to finalize the plan by summer 2024.