Idaho’s New Trespass Law

 Major changes in Idaho’s trespass law took place on July 1, 2018. Most of the changes are very beneficial to private landowners; however, there is confusion within the law enforcement community on how they will deal with certain aspects of the new law. In general, “No Trespassing” posting requirements for landowners have been lowered and the penalties for violators have been increased – both great news for landowners. Following is a brief summary of the most significant changes.


  1. Posting Requirements

Previously, Idaho landowners were required to post their boundary every 660 feet and at obvious entry points, such as roads and streams. Valid posting included a “No Trespassing” sign or bright orange paint. The new law removes the requirement to post every 660 feet along property boundaries.


The new law states that landowners who want to keep trespassers out and reserve the right for possible prosecution or civil action must conspicuously post their uncultivated property boundaries with signs or orange paint at property corners, navigable streams, roads and gates in a manner that a “reasonable person would be put on notice that it is private land.” The law does not require posting for cultivated land or land that is reasonably associated with a residence.


  1. Penalties

Under the old law, trespass violators were subject to as little as a $50 fine. As indicated in the highlighted box, trespass penalties have been greatly increased. The new law includes exemptions for emergency responders and people who knock on doors such as missionaries, meter readers, salespeople, etc.


Trespass Penalties

The new trespass law created a set of criminal trespass penalties that increases in severity for repeat offenders:

  • First offense: $300 fine if they leave when asked. If not, the charge could carry 6 months jail time and up to $1,000 in fines.
  • Second offense within five years: misdemeanor, up to six months jail time and between $1,500 and $3,000 in fines.
  • Third offense within 10 years: possible felony, up to 10 years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.
  • Trespassing that results in property damage carries increased punishments.
  • Additionally, criminal trespass associated with hunting, fishing or trapping brings a one-year suspension of Idaho Fish and Game licenses.

Although the new law represents a major improvement in the eyes of landowners, sportsmen and law enforcement officers have concerns. For example, portions of the language in the new law are ambiguous, such as the requirement that a person commits a trespass when he/she “enters and remains” on property. There is a question regarding the definition of “remains.” Also, the interpretation of a “reasonable person would be put on notice” may open an escape hatch for a trespasser, even though the new law provides some guidance.


There is a chance the legislature may tweak the law in its next session. Hopefully, the right of landowners to protect their property will remain the guiding principle.


Mike Wolcott

More on Western Redcedar

In last spring’s issue of Tree Talk we addressed two important questions regarding the high value of western redcedar logs: 1) What is causing these inflated prices?  And 2) How long this trend will last?

(If you missed this article and are curious, you can catch up by going to our website,, where a number of our past newsletters are available.)

In this article we’ll take a deeper look into the life of this unique species and touch on some of its special management needs.

It’s all in a name. Western redcedar’s scientific name is Thuja plicata, i.e. aromatic (Thuja) folded in patterns (plicata). Commonly, we call the tree western redcedar rather than red cedar because it is not a true cedar. True cedars are native to the Middle and Far East and are quite different from redcedar. The redcedar also falls within a group of trees known as arborvitaes (literally tree of life) and is sometimes called giant arborvitae. Early Native Americans along the Pacific Coast called the tree “long life maker” because it provided them with essentials such as medicines, food, clothing, lodging, totems, and transportation (“canoe cedar”). Western redcedar was so highly regarded in traditional cultures that religious ceremonies were held on the rare occasion when a tree was felled for a totem or canoe.

Long life of the western redcedar. In describing the life of a redcedar, our story could begin on any number of Pacific Northwest sites supported by maritime climatic influences, inside an elevation range of near zero to over 6,000 feet. In the Inland Northwest, the setting could range from a river bottom or moist upland forest just south of Grangeville, Idaho to Prince George, British Columbia.

As an example, let’s travel east of Bovill, ID about 25 miles up the Elk River to a tree that possibly started growing about the time Homer wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey.

Our tree most likely took root following some type of disturbance. Western redcedar (RC) seeds germinate best in openings on mineral soil or on sites prepared by fire. Although RC is a very prolific seeder, if the seed falls on an undisturbed forest floor survival is unlikely.  Also, the seed source for our special tree must have been fairly close because, although light, the cedar’s winged seed has difficulty traveling more than 400 feet from its source. Possibly our tree began its life through vegetative reproduction, which RC is capable of under the right conditions, especially in moister forests.

Once established, our young tree faced many challenges. For example, until its roots became well-situated it was very vulnerable to summer drought. A nearby spring likely gave our seedling an advantage here. Harsh winters and the lack of summer moisture continued to make life difficult. Fortunately, RC does not have a fixed bud, which allows it more flexibility to grow when conditions are favorable, even in winter. Our tree also had to survive animal devastation. Black bears foraging for food in the early spring can decimate young stands by stripping bark to reach the sweet phleom, and browsing animals consider young cedar foliage a tasty treat. Perhaps hard winters or Native American hunting pressure kept animal numbers low? Fortunately, our tree either avoided or survived these threats.

Unique chemical compounds in RC also make it resistant to many of the insect and disease issues affecting other conifers, giving our tree a big advantage. Additionally, once established and growing, RC produces compounds that make the wood very resistant to decay. But because these substances are not produced until the tree is older, young RC is left with a center that is vulnerable to decay. The aging process also breaks down decay resistance, so extensive decay may be present in very old trees. Although this rot can reduce the tree’s commercial value, it does offer a secondary gain for wildlife because it creates conditions ideal for cavity nesters. So our redcedar became a home to numerous species.

Because our tree is a relatively slow growing species, other trees may have taken over the forest canopy. But western redcedar develops special shade needles that give it a high tolerance to shade, allowing it to continue to grow even under a full forest canopy.

As is true in any forest, our tree faced a continual wildfire threat. Western redcedar foliage is very flammable, the tree has shallow roots, and the bark offers little protection from fire. Fortunately, RC is a very tough tree and can persist even if only a small part of its living tissues (cambium, needles, and roots) survive and remain connected. This incredible tenacity allowed our tree to survive numerous wildfires.

The above characteristics, among others, likely contributed to our RC developing into the Idaho State Champion and largest North American west of the Cascades: a western redcedar 18 feet in diameter and 177 feet tall that is accessible via the paved Giant Cedar National Recreation Trail  on the Nez Perce/Clearwater National Forest. The age of this tree has been speculated at around 3,000 years; however, the age of this old western redcedar must be projected because extensive decay makes accurate tree ring counts impossible. The oldest confirmed western redcedar age is around 1,500 years.

Special management considerations.  Although it is possible to find a few scattered relics, most western redcedar trees on private land in our area are not much older than one hundred years because they became established following soil disturbance by logging or wildfires at the turn of the last century. Of course, there are notable exceptions on public land, such as the majestic Ross Creek Cedars in Montana or Settlers Grove near Prichard, Idaho. All these trees became established under much different disturbance regimes than are happening in today’s forests.

Differing disturbance regimes coupled with the special needs of RC, especially the risk of loss to big game, offer great challenges to perpetuating the species on our private forest lands. And though challenging, management of this spectacular tree can be very rewarding on the proper site.  Here are a few principles to keep in mind:

  • Removing trees from around subordinate RC may release some trees in a mixed-species stand, but keep in mind that partial logging also favors the establishment of other less desirable species, most commonly grand fir in the Inland Northwest. Partial logging may also lead to population decline if stands with redcedar are opened too much. Eliminating the shade in dense stands leaves the trees very susceptible to sun shock. Thinning lightly from below, or not at all, may be an option for such stands. A clumpy harvesting strategy that opens carefully selected areas for reforestation while leaving other patches relatively untouched is another effective strategy.
  • If a regeneration harvest is your objective, understand that once cut, it is very difficult for RC to become established in the new stand because of challenges related to proper site preparation, ungulate browsing, and possibly, the lack of a good seed source. Consider leaving a few old relics or clumps of younger cedar to reseed, if not for the next rotation, possibly for future stands and wildlife habitat.
  • Planting western redcedar comes with high risk. Well maintained protection from big game is a must. Selecting the correct site is also crucial because soil moisture is such a big issue until the seedlings become well-established. And western redcedar is also susceptible to root damage and compaction because of its shallow root system.

Mother Nature’s Towers with Solar Panels

Professor Jay O’Laughlin, retired director of the College of Natural Resource’s Policy Analysis Group at the University of Idaho, was noted for his many informative and entertaining presentations. His quick wit, along with a mastery of his subject matter and computer skills, kept the audience anxiously awaiting his next zinger. In one such presentation, combining carbon sequestration and solar energy, he pointed out that Mother Nature had long ago created the perfect solution to address both diverse topics. The professor described a structure consisting of a tower with thousands of solar panels attached to it. He explained that the tower stores carbon and the panels produce energy from the sun. Moreover, this structure also cleanses the air. After a slight hesitation, Jay clicked on to the next slide illustrating a picture of, you guessed it, a tree. His only comment, “we call them trees.” Point made!

Well, let’s use this cross-sectional diagram to briefly describe the wooden tower portion of Mother Nature’s marvel. Foresters refer to this as the trunk, stem or bole of a tree.

Bark provides the protective outer layer of the trunk. Usually corky in texture, it provides insulation from extreme temperatures. It is also the tree’s first line of defense against insect and disease attacks.

Phloem (pronounced flow-um) transports plant food, produced in the leaves during photosynthesis to the rest of the tree. Consisting of sucrose and fructose sugars in a water-based solution, we also know this plant food as sap. The phloem, a form of inner bark, is vulnerable to being girdled by bark beetles, which will kill the tree by blocking the flow of nutrients.

Cambium is the active growing layer of the tree. While it may be only one or two cells thick, the all-important cambium produces new phloem on the outside and new xylem on the inside.

Xylem (pronounced zi – lem), also called sapwood, is the waterworks of the tree as it transports water and dissolved minerals from the roots to the branches and leaves. Enlongated cells in the xylem act as pipes that create pressure within the tree, which seem to defy gravity and force water upward.

Although not depicted in the diagram, the new growth each year by the cambium forms annual rings in the xylem. As we all know, these annual rings reveal the age and growth pattern of the tree. Annual rings contain two bands: light colored springwood produced early in the growing season and dark colored summerwood formed during the latter part of the growing season. These two bands represent one year of radial growth in a tree.

Heartwood comprises the central column of the bole which provides structural support for the tree. It consists of dead xylem wood that no longer pumps water. The outer layers of the bark, phloem and xylem protect this dead wood from decay and insect damage. Over time, the color of heartwood darkens in some species. For example, the heartwood in Douglas-fir darkens to a reddish tint, hence the common name of red fir. But on the other hand, the heartwood in grand fir remains a very light color giving it a common name of white fir.

In conclusion, now you know that a tree trunk is far more complex that a wooden tower wrapped in bark. We will explore the solar panels that are attached to these towers in a future issue of Tree Talk.

Bill Love


The concluding words of a current L.L. Bean television commercial showing people recreating outdoors says, “Be an outsider.” Of course, you can guess the brand of clothing these attractive models chose to wear.

Most forest landowners cite recreational activities, along with wildlife, as a major reason they own their forest land. Does your forest management plan, either the one on paper or the one in your head, include recommendations for improving forest recreation on your forestland? If not, the best way to develop some ideas is with your boots on your ground. Be sure to carry a few essentials as you take that walk or ATV ride:

• A roll or two of flagging will come in handy to tie around the occasional tree that should come down, perhaps for firewood. The mystery on a future visit will become why you hung that flagging in the first place?
• Take a tip from the Christmas tree growers – never leave home without hand pruners. You may discover a white pine sapling that could use pruning to reduce the risk of white pine blister rust. Or, one of your planted seedlings may have developed a double leader (top) that would benefit from pruning.
• A folding pruning saw will take care of bigger limbs that hang over trails that get in the way of your hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding or ATV riding. Although not the most efficient tool for the job, you can also thin that dense clump of saplings that you’ve ignored in the past.
• Bring along a little notebook to scribe notes ranging from adding to your “to do” list or chronicling your birding observations. Better yet, explore your creative side and keep a nature journal. Allow the poet in you to jot down an inspired verse or your artistic eye to sketch a memorable scene. No one other than yourself ever has to see your handiwork. But, perhaps, a grandchild may come across it years from now and gain an appreciation for your devotion to your forestland.

Don’t dismiss nature journaling as one of those touchy-feely activities that only appeals to poets and artists. Remember that Henry David Thoreau kept meticulous notes on the flowering dates of lilacs surrounding Walden’s Pond. These records have now been maintained for over a century and a half, and provide important insights to seasonal climate changes.

Now don’t get too carried away with packing these items every time you step into your forest. Most importantly, leave your chainsaw in the pickup. Remember, recreation is your primary objective for this visit. But for some of us, we consider hanging some flagging and pruning a branch a fun part of being in our woods.

With the cool and colorful days of fall approaching, get outdoors and enjoy your forestland. As my wife, Marianne, summed up a recent horseback ride through our small forest, “The best part: when I’m out there enjoying nature on top of my horse, all the hatred, the conflict and woes of the world seem a whole lot further away. And, that is good these days.”

“Be an outsider.”

Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 Sundance Fire

“On September 1, 1967 the lightning-caused Sundance Fire made an unprecedented 6 mile wide, 28 mile long run from near the western base of Sundance Mountain (near Priest Lake) in just 8 hours. It ripped giant trees from the ground, created by its heat convection column equal to a Class-5 tornado, melted an iron girder bridge across Pack River, killed two firefighters, and left nearly 56,000 acres virtually sterilized for decades.” (Fire Lookout Museum, Spokane, Washington)

During August and September, the U.S. Forest Service, Idaho Department of Lands, Society of American Foresters and local historical museums in Priest Lake, Bonners Ferry, and Sandpoint hosted a series of events commemorating this catastrophic conflagration. Over 400 people attended indoor programs at Priest Lake and Bonners Ferry while 100 people met for a field trip at the site of the damaged bridge on Pack River. Each event allowed ample time for those involved with the fire a half century ago to share their story. In another event, family members gathered near the site of the fatalities for a private memorial observance in which a marker and interpretative sign was unveiled to remember the two fallen firefighters.


In the maiden issue of Tree Talk way back in 1997, a feature article discussed Idaho trespass laws and the steps landowners can take to minimize trespassing on their property. Since this continues to be a hot topic and, in 2014, Idaho Senate Bill 1241 modified trespassing statutes, we felt it would be appropriate to revisit this topic.

Please note that the posting information is specific only to the State of Idaho.

The requirements to legally discourage trespassing in the state of Idaho are somewhat confusing. Three different statutes discuss “No Trespassing” posting requirements.

Although the spacing of “No Trespass” warning notices in all statues is consistent at 660 feet, the type of notice varies.

While two Idaho statutes only mention the use of “No Trespassing” signs as a sufficient warning, a third statute is more specific and identifies legal requirements for posting property to include one of the following:
• Posting “No Trespassing” signs.
• Posted with at least 100 square inches of a high visibility shade of orange paint. In the case of metal fence posts, the top 18 inches must be painted.
• Posted with “…other notices of like meaning” with at least “one sign, paint area, or notice every 660 feet. (That’s every 10 chains if you read the Spring 2015 edition of Tree Talk.)
• Cultivated or irrigated agricultural land is automatically posted and does not require any of the above measures.

What Idaho Senate Bill 1241 did was add a convenience option for landowners with large acreages that front along public access roads so fewer signs and/or less paint would be required. Rather than quote the statute verbatim, it can be paraphrased as follows:

Posting a conspicuous sign where a public road enters the property with wording similar to “Private Property, No Trespassing off (relevant compass direction, i.e. North) Side of Road Next (fill in distance) Miles.” And where a public road exits the property, a similar sign which reads “Leaving Private Property” must be posted.

So, rather than a seemingly continuous wall of signs or orange paint, one sign placed where a public road enters the property that defines the side of the road and the length of property and another sign at the exit point of the property now fulfills the requirement for a legal posting.

By eliminating the need for a property owner to hang signs or paint blazes every 660 feet, it is believed that this will be aesthetically more pleasing for the public.

Because multiple sections of Idaho Code address these issues, we encourage you to consult the State of Idaho website to read the specific state statutes relating to trespass. These include Title 36-1603, 1604 Fish and Game Recreational Trespass and Title 18-7008, 7011 Trespass and Malicious Injuries to Property.

Problems with trespass are handled by the local sheriff and/or conservation officer if hunting or fishing are involved. If you detect someone trespassing on your land, it is best to first warn them verbally. If this fails, record pertinent information about the violator (and vehicle, if applicable) and inform the local sheriff. Above all, do not allow this initial contact to escalate into a confrontational situation.
Property ownership comes with many responsibilities; one of which is keeping unwanted trespassers off of the land. But it also allows many privileges. Certainly spending time enjoying the beauty of your forest during these nice fall days ranks among the best of them.

—Mike Wolcott and Bill Love

Bark Beetles Attracted to Storm Damaged Trees

Recent history seems to indicate that we are experiencing more windstorms with greater frequency and intensity. Most of us recall the back-to-back windstorms that occurred in July and August 2014. They resulted in road closures, power outages, building damage and many downed trees, in both urban and wildland forests. Another doozy of a storm blew through the region in November 2015, causing human injuries and fatalities as well as property and forest damage. And sandwiched between these major events, localized minor storms with more winds caused noticeable damage.

As forest owners and foresters we well understand the cause and effect relationship between downed trees and bark beetles. Downed or damaged trees at the wrong time of year will attract bark beetles. This is especially true with ponderosa or lodgepole pine (pine engraver beetle) and Douglas-fir (Douglas-fir beetle). The beetles attack the downed trees, limbs and stems three inches and larger in diameter, go through a life cycle under the bark, and a second generation emerges to attack nearby live trees. In the case of the pine engraver beetle (also referred to as Ips because of its genus name), this second generation flight takes place the same summer as the original attack. For Douglas-fir the follow-up attack on live trees occurs in the next year.

Though tree damage was significant, the 2014 storms were, for the most part, late enough in the summer that bark beetle flights had already occurred for the season. Moreover, the moist tissue underneath the bark that harbors bark beetles had sufficiently dried prior to the flights in the spring and early summer of 2015, so we avoided the double whammy of a bark beetle outbreak.

But this will likely not be the case following the November 2015 windstorm. Downed trees, broken tops and fresh cut logs will likely attract bark beetles when they begin to fly in a month or two. The best advice if you have damaged or downed trees is to clean-up as quickly as possible, especially pine species. Unfortunately, the shortened winter logging season did not provide much of an opportunity for salvage harvesting for those with downed merchantable timber.

Points to keep in mind:
• Pine species should be cleaned up this spring. You have until next spring to clean up Douglas-fir.
• Salvage merchantable timber if possible.
• If you cut firewood, get the individual pieces out in direct sunlight to speed drying.
• If possible, remove some or all of the bark.
• Do not stack firewood against live trees.
• Monitor downed trees for bark beetle attacks when daytime temperatures warm to 70 degrees or above.
• Look for boring frass (small piles of reddish colored sawdust) on logs. This is a sure sign that bark beetles have attacked the tree.
• Pile and burn or chip the unused portions of trees.

Don’t hesitate to contact us if you sustained damage during the latest wind storm or if you have any questions on how to avoid a future problem with bark beetles.  –Bill Love, CF

What Kind of Tree is This?

Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard: “Hey, you’re a forester; what kind of tree is this?”

For many foresters, we would rather confront a bear in the woods than hear that brief question. We’re fine answering that question in our local forest with native trees, but while looking at a non-native tree we’re quickly reminded that our college Dendrology course came down to a one-question final exam with either a pass or fail grade. No matter if we took this course last semester or 40 years ago, our reputation is on the line.

Every forester, usually as a freshman, takes Dendrology which literally translates as the “study of trees.” And for decades, the Textbook of Dendrology, published by McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc. in their American Forestry Series, became each student’s bible.

In the introduction, authors Harlow and Harrar begin with, “A knowledge of the names of trees, their habits, and principal botanical features is basic to advanced studies in forestry.” Dendrology teaches not only tree identification, but perhaps more importantly, the knowledge and methods to be able to identify unknown species.

Dendrology lectures focused on basic tree identification characteristics. Since leaves provide important clues to a tree’s identity, students learn about leaf arrangement, leaf composition, leaf shapes, leaf venation, and leaf surface features.

But leaves are not always present. Flowers (yes, trees have flowers), fruits, twigs, buds, and bark all become important identifying characteristics on a leafless tree.

My dendrology course took place in southwest Louisiana where bottomland hardwoods prevailed in any forest not planted with southern yellow pines: loblolly, slash, longleaf or shortleaf. The professor warned us that the deciduous tree we easily identified by its leaves in September would be bare during our field exam in January. Sassafras, for example, has three distinctively shaped leaves on the same tree making it easy to identify. Recognizing this species by its twigs and bark, however, requires some skill. For a real test, try picking out about a dozen different oaks just by their bark.

Going back to that dreaded question, foresters feel comfortable in identifying native trees growing in the forest within their local area. We can usually look from one ridge to the next and easily pick out native conifers just by the shape of their crowns. But we quiver in our boots when asked that same question in someone’s backyard, or especially, on an old farmstead. That’s because there is no way of predicting what non-native species were planted with origins from who knows where. Since many settlers migrated to this area from the mid-west or Lake States, it’s not unusual to find a mid-western hardwood or two transplanted from the old family farm in Indiana or Michigan.
Over the years I’ve been asked to identify northern red oak, bitternut hickory, and American elm growing in North Idaho. In regard to conifers, I’ve seen bristlecone pine and giant sequoia. Who knows how they got here or why they survived. (The sequoia trees did well for several years but eventually succumbed during an extremely cold winter.)

Probably the second most-asked question for a forester: “…can you recommend a good book on tree identification?” The answer, of course, is yes and it’s not just limited to printed publications. A search of the internet becomes a quick source to learn about tree identification. But for those of us who like the feel of a book in our hands, most of the regional plant guides, available from local book stores or on-line sources, have sections on native trees. I especially like a series from Lone Pine Publishing based in Canada.

Although out-of-print, Wild Trees of Idaho, by Frederick D. Johnson is available at but, let me warn you, the few available new copies now bring about $180. Fortunately used copies start at $40. Another source is the University of Idaho website where a PDF version can be viewed online or downloaded to your computer. Regardless of how you obtain a copy, you will learn about trees in Idaho.

Another good source of information on tree and plant identification is “Plants of Southern Interior British Columbia and the Inland Northwest” by Parish, Coupe and Lloyd. This book is a great “take it with you” guide to the flora world.

So next time you see a forester, be sure to ask, “… you’re a forester; what kind of tree is this?”– Bill Love, CF

Inland Forests’ Biggest Pests

What pest problem has the greatest influence on the health of Inland Northwest forests:
Bark beetles? Stem decays? Root diseases? Needle casts? Dwarf mistletoes? Rusts?

White Pine Blister Rust
From an historical perspective, many foresters argue that white pine blister rust has had the biggest impact on forest health. Because of this introduced disease, as well as logging practices, the amount of white pine in our moist forests has been reduced from about 50% historically to about 3% today. Fortunately, with increased knowledge of our forests, today’s foresters are working to reverse this trend. For example, new plantings include blister rust-resistant white pine seedlings.

Root Disease
For family forests the most serious pest is commonly at “the root of the problem”- root disease. Except for pure pine forests, root disease can likely be found on a property of any significant size.

Unfortunately, root disease does decimate many of our forests. Areas of the Inland Northwest have the dubious distinction of containing some of the largest root disease centers in the world. In fact, many knowledgeable people currently consider the largest living organism to be a single root disease fungus that covers 2,300 acres in eastern Oregon!

Since the presence of root disease plays such an important role in our forests, let’s examine how it functions and the solutions.

How is it Spread?
This disease spreads from the roots of infected trees to the roots of healthy trees via root contact or by tiny rot-like structures. Infection can occur in all tree species found in the region, but mainly impacts Douglas-fir and grand fir trees. Pine species and western larch are much less susceptible to root disease.

Trees may survive for many years following infection with root disease, although tree growth is slowed. Indications of root disease are:
• Tree crowns fade from dark green to pale yellow
• Presence of excessive pitch at ground level
• Dark brown stains on the bark
• Sparse needles
• Numerous Douglas-fir and grand fir snags

What to Do?
The proper approach to minimize root disease losses depends on ownership objectives and the tree species currently established in the forest.

One approach is to harvest the tree species most susceptible to root disease while leaving trees that are much less susceptible. In a mixed conifer forest, western larch and pine species should be favored over Douglas-fir and grand fir trees.

If only Douglas-fir and grand fir trees are present, then small clearings can be created and planted with western larch or pine seedlings. Since larch and pine species need sunlight to survive and thrive, they do not grow well if planted under a tree canopy.


Every good intention I had to get my firewood in early this year met an equally good excuse. First it was too cold then too hot, too wet then too dry, too many bugs, gas prices too high, too many huckleberries to pick, and then the fly fishing was way too good, and now it’s almost too late.

If you ignored all of those “good” excuses and have your firewood split and stacked, no need to read any further. Otherwise, keep reading.

Foresters often hear the question, “Which is the best species of wood to burn?” In our region, consisting of mixed conifer and deciduous forests, two species —western larch (tamarack) and western paper birch—are most often mentioned. Why is that?

Very simply, a pound of dry wood, regardless of species, produces a certain amount of BTUs (British Thermal Units) when burned.

We typically measure firewood in a unit called a cord, which consists of 128 cubic feet. For example, if you cut your firewood in two-foot lengths, then you will need to stack it eight feet high and eight feet wide to equal a cord (2’ x 8’ x 8’ = 128 cubic feet).

Further, the weight of a cord of seasoned firewood varies according to species. It should be no surprise that a cord of birch weighs more than a cord of aspen. Similarly, larch weighs more than grand fir (white fir). Therefore, the heavier the cord of wood, the more BTUs it will produce when burned.

A number of years ago, now-retired University of Idaho Extension Forester Don White developed a table comparing the fuel wood characteristics of our native tree species. A simplified version of that table illustrates several species commonly used in our area.

After looking over the table, you can readily see why larch and birch top the list for desirable species. That’s what I’ll be looking for as I head to the woods this fall to gather a few cords of firewood.

— Bill Love

Firewood Heat Values

(Based upon wood air-dried to a 20% moisture content)

Species BTU per Cord Pounds per Cord
Larch 26,825,000 3,300
Birch 24,490,000 3,040
Douglas-fir 23,925,000 2,970
Hemlock 21,750,000 2,700
Lodgepole pine 21,025,000 2,610
White pine 18,125,000 2,250
Ponderosa pine 18,045,000 2,240
Grand fir 17,400,000 2,160
Cottonwood 17,400,000 2,160
Aspen 17,400,000 2,160
Cedar 16,595,000 2,060