Bucking a Trend Through a Passion for Growing Trees

There is bad news and good news for private forestland in the United States.

Sixty percent of all the forestland in the United States is privately owned. But, according to a 2005 USDA Forest Service Report, Forests on the Edge: Housing Development on America’s Private Forests, conversion of private forestland into developed uses reached one million acres per year in the 1990’s, and by 2050, prognosticators predict that more than 11%, or another 44.2 million acres, will be consumed by development. The negative impacts of this trend include reduced production of timber and forest products as well as a loss of outdoor recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat.

Thankfully, there are a few shining stars like Al and Caroline Farnsworth, owners of Xmas Hills Limited Partnership tree farm, who resist the temptation to make a “fast buck” with land development and focus, instead, on growing trees.

Al and Caroline’s passion for growing trees and their love of land took root 47 years ago when they purchased their first parcel near Moyie Springs, Idaho, in 1961. Over the years their tree farm enterprise has grown to seven separate properties encompassing about 4,000 acres.

In 1964 a captivating 1,000-acre forest situated on a gently rolling terrace overlooking St. Maries, Idaho, was added to the Xmas Hill portfolio. Recognizing the potential recreational value of this forest, the State of Idaho purchased a recreational lease in 1977 to allow public use for hiking, off-road motorcycling and snowmobiling. Success was immediate! As it is now known, the Xmas Hills Recreation Area proved so popular that the original 25-year lease was renewed for another term in 2002. Additionally, it was on this property where the Farnsworths chose to receive the 1985 Western Region Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year Award presented by Senator Larry Craig.

Recently the Farnsworths purchased another 360 acres of forestland adjacent to the Recreation Area. This parcel is ripe for development – close to town with breathtaking views of St. Maries and the St. Joe River Valley – but even after paying “development land” prices, the Farnsworths have decided to dedicate this parcel to managed forestland. Certainly not a decision that “pencils-out” financially, but one that gives the Farnsworths priceless pleasure from seeing land growing trees, not houses.

Though the newly acquired 360-acre parcel has a spectacular setting, it presents many forest management challenges. Prior to purchase, the property had been heavily harvested resulting in a thin stand of trees, which became damaged by subsequent windstorms. Many of the “leave” trees were blown down or broken-off. Salvage efforts by the previous owner recovered much, but not all, of the damaged timber. So with the help of Inland Forest Management, Inc., and Scheirmeister Logging, the Farnsworths initiated a harvest operation to salvage the value of the remaining damaged trees and to begin making way for a young, vigorous forest.

But removing the damaged overstory is only part of the rehabilitation process for this forest. New trees are needed, but competing vegetation, such as dense brush and grass, would likely doom reforestation efforts without proper site preparation. Fortunately, the Farnsworths were able to secure cost-share funding from the Forest Land Enhancement Program and professional assistance from the Wilbur Ellis Company and Inland Forest Management, Inc., to apply herbicides on 137 acres. The spraying was completed last summer, so next spring approximately 26,000 western larch, ponderosa pine and western white pine will be planted in the treated areas.

The Farnsworths are firm believers in good forest stewardship and continue to remain actively involved in many other projects throughout their tree farm including access development, precommercial thinning, fertilization (They’ve personally spread fertilizer by hand over many acres!), site preparation and tree planting. In addition to completing many tasks, including visiting their tree farm regularly, maintaining an irrigation system on a forested property near Bonners Ferry and salvage logging, they believe that communication, cooperation and a positive attitude are keys to successful forest management. For example, Al personally takes time to visit neighbors and correspond with hand-written notes on a regular basis.

From the immense benefits that the Xmas Hills Recreation Area provides the community of St. Maries, to allowing hunters (who ask permission) to hunt on property near Bonners Ferry, the Farnsworths relish knowing that other people are benefiting from their managed land. They only ask that people respect this privilege and use the resource wisely.

Through their far-sighted commitment to forest stewardship and opened-hearted approach of allowing others to enjoy their land, Al and Caroline have helped stem-the-tide of development, while providing a wonderful forested environment for all to enjoy. We, as well as future generations, thank them.

Al Farnsworth and a view of St. Maries from the new addition to Xmas Hills Recreation Area.