Updated 'Shade Rule' Aims To Protect Idaho Fish Habitat

Jun 30, 2014

Credit Oregon Department of Forestry / Flickr Creative Commons

Idaho has long restricted cutting down trees along stream banks as a way to keep water cool for trout and a salmon. On July 1, an updated version of the so-called shade rule goes into effect.   

Two legislative committees unanimously approved the revised rule earlier this year.  The old shade rule had a big flaw, says Jonathan Oppenheimer with the Idaho Conservation League. It allowed landowners to cut down 25 percent of trees near streams each year.

“You could have gone in and reduced shade by 25 percent, and the following year gone in and reduced it by another 25 percent, and so on until you had just one tree or just a few shrubs,” Oppenheimer says.

The Idaho Department of Lands has been working on crafting a new rule for more than a decade. It took that long to write something everyone could agree on. Idaho state forester David Groeshl says the new rule finally represents an acceptable compromise.

“It really struck the balance between protecting the stream, also to recognize land owners allowing them some management flexibility,” Groeshl says.

Though the new rule involves a lot of complicated science and politics, its success relies on a simple idea.

“It recognizes that the trees closer to the stream are more important than trees further away from the stream,” Groeshl says.

The new shade rule is stricter than the old one about cutting down trees right next to streams, but allows more cutting further from the water.

“What we would have preferred to see was a simple no-cut buffer to say, ‘hey, in this area adjacent to the stream it really doesn’t make sense to be removing trees,’” says Oppenheimer

He agrees that the trees close to the water are more important for providing shade, but he disagrees about what constitutes close. He wanted a strict buffer zone of a few hundred feet. That’s similar to what’s required on a lot of federal land.

The buffer zone that goes into effect this week on Idaho's private and state land is 75 feet and still allows some cutting. Still, Oppenheimer says it will help better protect fish than what was in place before.

The shade rule also regulates removing fallen trees from fish-bearing streams. Fish need trees and other woody debris in the water to create a healthy ecosystem.

Follow reporter Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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