Increased logging on Idaho's private lands boosted the amount of timber harvested last year, and the Ice Storm of 1996 played a big role in that climb.

From 1996 to 1997, the amount of timber taken off private ground in Idaho increased by 56 million board feet, enough to fill 11,200 logging trucks.Logging in Kootenai County accounted for most of that. Of the 56 million board feet, 41 million was cut on private land in the county.

"The biggest reason is Ice Storm '96," said Mike Welling, vice president for Idaho Forest Industries.

In November of that year, the storm coated branches with ice, breaking the tops off thousands of trees around Coeur d'Alene. Foresters and scientists alike worried that would increase the chance of fire and attract insect infestations.

Concerned landowners who had never considered logging their property cut and sold the damaged trees.

"When you remember back, the most significant impacts happened in Kootenai County," said Bill Love, bureau chief for the Idaho Land Department forest assistance office. "A few miles north of Coeur d'Alene and 20 miles south of Coeur d'Alene, which is basically Kootenai County, received the worst damage."

The rest of the Panhandle also reported increases in private timber harvest. Of that, more lumber was taken from commercial lands. But the amount of wood cut on nonindustrial, private land is increasing at a quicker rate.

In year-to-year comparisons, logging of private nonindustrial land rose by 12 percent, while timber taken from commercial forest went up 5 percent.

Welling said corporate foresters are actively seeking noncommercial landowners in an effort to fill their mills.

"For sure, we're harvesting more than we're growing," he said. "That's the biggest question in our industry right now: How much can be cut from private lands?"

Timber harvest on state land declined from 227 million board feet in 1996 to 222 million board feet last year, said Ron Litz, bureau chief for Idaho Department of Lands forest management. That still is above the average harvest of 210 million.

Figures on the amount of timber taken from Idaho's national forests will not be available until August, but industry experts expect the numbers will follow the trend of declining supplies.

An average of 300 million board feet has been logged annually from federal land during the 1990s.