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5 Different Types of Forests in Idaho

This is a landscape scenery showcasing the Idaho mountains, forests and a beaver dam.

If you’ve ever spent the night under a starry sky, you’ve truly lived. Camping is a favorite of my family because it makes us realize how small we truly are! Idaho has many such forests, and they offer sustenance, economic stability, and endless hours of leisure, each in their own way. So, what types of forests are there in Idaho?

Idaho consists of three forest types, divided by the north and south: Grasslands, Aquatic Wetlands, Desert Regions. They are all mixed-forests, so temperatures vary wildly, from 10 ºF (-8 ºC) to 70 ºF (25 ºC).  The fauna and flora are unique to each region, and each contains endangered species.

Forests each boast an ecosystem unique to themselves, and seeing how they all merge, is quite spectacular! Join me as I share many wonderful facts about Idaho’s forests and the role they play in sustaining the life that relies on them.

Types Of Forests In Idaho

This is a view of the McGown Peak Sawtooth Mountains across from the flower and grass field.

Since all of Idaho’s forests are mixed forests, you would think they share similarities, but they are pretty different. The grasslands are located in the north of Idaho. Plants that inhabit this area are wheatgrass, wildflowers, and fescue. The Grasslands can be very windy due to the lack of trees numbering the landscape.

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However, this is a boon for the flora because they use the wind to pollinate instead of insects. Temperatures are somewhere in the middle, never cold or scorching hot. Due to the lack of trees, mammals such as red foxes dig their own burrows to store food and rear their young because it is cooler.   

The Desert areas form part of the Great Basin Desert. It’s often called the “cool” desert because it is at an altitude of 4,000 feet, so snow is expected during Winter. Vegetation such as rabbitbrush, bitterbrush, and sagebrush are its local inhabitants, with sagebrush being the most important.

Sagebrush provides shelter and nutrients for many desert animals. The pygmy rabbit is well-acquainted with the taste of sagebrush, and they can often be found within the same vicinity.  Furthermore, the pygmy rabbit digs its burrows underneath sagebrush trees as an extra measure of security against hungry predators.

The Aquatic ecosystems include all of Idaho’s rivers, streams, ponds, and lakes. They are comprised of bogs, fens, and marshes that are better known as wetlands or riparian areas. Riparian areas refer to the green areas along the water that houses a wide variety of vegetation. These include Hawthorn, River Birch, Red-Osier Dogwood, and Alder.

The marshes are essential for several faunas, including the Yellow-headed blackbird, American bittern, Sandhill Crane, toads, and beavers. Toads lay their eggs in them, and migrating birds use them to rest before continuing to the next leg of their journey.

What Biomes Exist In Idaho?

This is a view of Alice Lake, Sawtooth mountains and the forest wilderness in between.

Idaho is divided by Northern Idaho Forests and Southern Idaho Forests, each with its biomes. The north consists primarily of grasslands, known as the Palouse. Southern forests are arid desert regions; it is known for its sagebrush steppe.  There are also aquatic wetlands such as bogs, fens, and marshes scattered throughout.

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The grasslands have a unique soil called loess (lus). It is volcanic-rich soil that is excellent for growing plants. Many farms have been built in this area. The desert regions are housed by the Great Basin Desert, which is the largest desert in North America. However, it is a cooler desert because snow is expected in Winter.

In Idaho’s aquatic regions, you’ll find beavers, muskrats, ducks, and otters make their homes. The marshes contain grass-like like Cattails and Sedges. Swamps, on the other hand, have Cottonwood trees and Willows. Some bogs are thought to be anywhere from 4000 – 60,000 years old and grow a staggering one inch per year.

What Kind Of Trees Are In Idaho?

This is a close view of the Spokane River lined with various trees.

The forests of northern and southern Idaho are vastly different, and so they have varying differences between trees. They are divided by hardwoods and softwoods, with hardwoods being tough, sturdy wood and softwoods more lightweight and flexible.

Trees that grow in the northern regions include Lodgepole Pine, Pacific Yew, Subalpine Fir, Douglas-fir, and Whitebark Pine. These trees have exceptionally useful properties that make them useful for building doors, windows, and other furniture. They are even used for the treatment of lung, breast, and ovarian cancer!

Southern trees include Buckeye, Big-tooth maple, Golden rain tree, Lacebark Elm, and Swamp White Oak. These trees are used for street trees to provide shade, and they are natural homes and nesting areas for a significant number of birds. Buckeye, in particular, is used in medicine for relief from rheumatism arthritis.

What Fauna Can You Find In Idaho?

This is a close look at a young timberwolf walking through a snowy forest.

Bighorn sheep can be seen throughout the mountain areas of Idaho. They use these areas for protection against predators, as well as to find shade from the sun. Having grown accustomed to cold climates, they prefer mountainous regions. Bighorn males can grow to 300 lbs, and their horns can be as heavy as 30 pounds.

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Wolverines have been affected by climate change more than most mammals. It has disrupted wolverine habitats and significantly reduced the total population size. You may find them in Sawtooth, Boise, and Payette National Forest Parks. Use caution, however, because these fearlessly brazen creatures are not afraid of a fight.

The North American Lynx is another native of Idaho that suffers from habitat loss and being hunted. They are beneficial for determining the ecological health of animals like marten, fishers, and wolverines. They can typically be found in the northern regions, with a more dense population in Utah.

How Do The Forests Of Idaho Affect Seasons?

This is a close look at the Lochsa river surrounded by pine forests.

The mountains of Idaho have a significant impact on its climate. Higher peaks lead to increase precipitation and colder temperatures. In other regions, the high mountains stop the flow of cold air resulting in an overall warmer climate. As with most forest ecoregions,  wildfires and climate change are substantial contributors.

Average temperatures in January are around 10 ºF (-8 ºC) in the central mountains. A bit further south, they become a little warmer at 30 ºF (-1 ºC). Around July, temperatures become a lot warmer at 60 ºF (16 ºC) and finally capping at average temperatures of 70 ºF (25 ºC).

What Flora Grows In The Forests Of Idaho?

This is a flower field with a background of the snowy sawtooth mountains.

Syringa is the official state flower of Idaho. This beautiful white flower has a long, red stem that turns grey with age. It has a sweet-smelling scent that carries a slight hint of pineapple – how wonderful! Syringa prefers to bask in the sun and can be found in coniferous forests and wetter areas near rivers or streams.

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Lewis’ Monkeyflower is named after the explorer Meriweather Lewis. This lovely flower can usually be found with pale pink or dark magenta colors, depending on where it grows. White variants have also been discovered! They grow in high-altitude areas, and they feed off their own nectar to pollinate.

United Blazingstar can thrive in various habitats, including forests, woodlands, and regions containing a lot of shrubs. It is usually comprised of a dense cluster of white or shiny-yellow flowers in a single stem. They usually prefer to be completely in the sun, although a little bit of shade is also acceptable.

Three Of Idaho’s Greatest Hiking Trails

This is a view afforded by the Caribou-Targhee National Park in Idaho.

Palisades Creek Trail in Caribou-Targhee National Forest is a hiking favorite. It’s known for its value-packed, spectacular mountain trails that are easily accessible. The lower and upper parts of Palisade Lake are connected, allowing for many wildlife sightings. The total length of this hiking trail sits at a comfortable 7 miles.

Mineral Ridge National Recreation Trail is about 10 miles in total. It leads to a picturesque view of Lake Coeur d’Alane, and flora and fauna along the way tell of its historical influence. From November to February, you can watch as magnificent bald eagles go for a bout of fishing at the lake.

This is a view of the Idaho Panhandle National Forest on a foggy morning.

Scotchman Peak in Idaho Panhandle National Forest is for those who enjoy a challenging hike! At 7,009 feet, it stands one of Idaho’s highest mountains. It’s home to mountain goats who aren’t shy for a picture but ensure to keep your distance for safety. Bring enough water because there are few opportunities to refill as you hike.

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Idaho Wildfires: Good Or Bad?

This is an aerial view of the Charlotte-Mink Creek Wildfire in Idaho.

Researches have stated that natural wildfires are a healthy necessity for Idaho forests. Wildfires remove dense areas and dead vegetation and thin out grass to make room for the new generation of plants. In addition, it enables sunlight to penetrate the forest floor, which provides nutrients to the vegetation.

Furthermore, burned trees offer homes to small animals like squirrels and birds. The burned vegetation also acts as a fertilizer for the soil and other surrounding plants.  Unfortunately, humans have altered the responsibility of wildfires, thereby hindering the growth of specific tree and plant species while accelerating others.

When humans put out wildfires as quickly as possible, forests become unnaturally dense. As a result, when another fire starts, it travels much faster across the forest, destroying more of the forest than it initially would have. If you also consider new residential developments, it creates somewhat of chaotic uncertainty.

Idaho’s Endangered Fauna

The grizzly bear is one of Idaho’s most iconic mammals. However, their population has been steadily declining due to illegal poaching activities and the loss of a large part of their habitat. An estimated one hundred bears exist across Yellowstone National Park, Selkir, Selway-Bitterroot, and Cabinet Yaak. 

Pygmy Rabbits are the smallest of all rabbits. They measure between 9.5 and 11.5 inches and weigh less than 1lb. Sagebrush is a staple in their diet, making them herbivores that live in arid environments. Their population has been affected due to a loss of habitat and predators like raptors, badgers, and coyotes.

Gray Wolves or Timber Wolves inhabit north-western regions of the U.S., but about 200 individual wolves, or 20 packs, can be found in Idaho. They are considered a threatened species because of a loss of habitat and ranchers who hunt them in defense of their livestock.

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Three Must-See National Parks In Idaho’s

This is a view of the Spatter Cone trail in Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho.

Craters of the Moon National Park are host to a landscape paved by a volcanic eruption. The thousands of stones left behind give it the moon’s appearance, and its volcanic history has declared it a monument. There are caves to explore, hiking trails to trek, and the camping grounds are phenomenal at night.

This is a view of the Bruneau Dunes State Park in Idaho.

Bruneau Dunes State Park boasts a 470-foot dune that inspires awe and invites endless fun! Hiking options are available for adults and kids, but consider hiking when temperatures are cooler; they can become quite scorching during the day. Tent-camping and equestrian campgrounds with water and electricity are available.

Harriman State Park has moose and elk roaming its vast landscape, and trumpeter swans, in particular, can be found gracing the waters. In Summer you can go horseback riding, hiking or biking through its trails. If you love skiing, you will be right at home here during Winter because there are some fantastic trails to ski!

How Does Idaho Look After Their Forests?

This is a view of the Sun Valley in Idaho during fall season.

By implementing regulations for forest conservation not only does it benefit the forest but humans too. It makes it possible for humans to fish or hunt without the danger of upsetting the forests’ ecosystems.  All these factors are essential for the public to maintain access to forest areas.

Furthermore, correct preservation will strengthen a forest in times of droughts, wildfires, or floods. It, in turn, means cleaner, healthier drinking water for all people and fauna. Economically speaking, forest recreational activities contribute $7.8 billion to the local GDP, creating a lot of job opportunities.

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Some fish like salmon are staple foods for many of Idaho’s wildlife and minor human settlements and businesses. Climate change has caused habitat loss, so efforts have been focusing on restoring natural habitat and reviving fishing businesses affected by climate change.

What Issues Do Forests In Idaho Face?

This is a look at the burnt pine forest in Stanley, Idaho.

Insects, diseases, and wildfires are some of the pressing issues facing the forests of Idaho. Mountain pine beetles are a particularly nasty menace that kills pine trees. They lay eggs underneath the bark, which produces blue stain fungi. The effects of these fungi prevent nutrients and water from circulation throughout the tree.

Root disease is a severe and ongoing problem that has killed over 12 million acres of trees. Fungi kill tree roots and break them down into cellulose (responsible for plant fibers and cotton) and lignin (for strengthening plants). Trees can no longer retain nutrients through their roots, and so they eventually die.

Although researchers argue that wildfires can be healthy for a forest, climate change has drastically affected the frequency in Idaho. Climate change has made surrounding areas a lot drier, and so wildfires are much more frequent. In the twenty-first century, more than 10 million acres have been consumed by wildfires.

Conclusion

Idaho’s forests are spectacularly picturesque and practical. They form a large part of Idaho’s economy, and many people, animals, and plants benefit significantly due to their nurturing ecosystems. As long as Idaho takes care of its forests, nature will return the favor.

Sources:

Idaho Department of Lands: Forest health Highlights

USDA Forest Service: Root Diseases in the Inland Northwest

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University of Idaho: Wildfire in the West

University of Idaho: Trees for Southwestern Idaho Landscapes

Quora: What are the Main Biomes in Idaho

World Atlas: What Animals Live in Idaho