Sitka Conservation Society
Aug 19 2014

Sitka Kitch holds its first classes in July

Sarah Lewis, UAS Extension, leads the ‘canning the harvest’ class. PHOTO: Amy Gulick

Part of my work here at SCS is my role as a community catalyst with the Sustainable Southeast Partnership (SSP). The SSP focuses on the triple bottom line approach to solving many of the challenges rural communities face in SE Alaska. In keeping with two of the SSP’s key directives, focus on local food and economic development, Sitka Kitch was developed. Sitka Kitch is the community project that was born out of the Sitka Health Summit being led by Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) and a devoted committee of local volunteers. The goal is to tap into local food resources, provide education and foster the development of new jobs and industries. This will fill a missing niche in Sitka and the region, training students to fill existing jobs in industries related to our region’s tourism and food based industry.

Sitka Kitch will also provide emergency preparedness and home economic based classes to increase food security at the household level. Programming and outreach will encourage community wide collaboration to address food-based issues while simultaneously improving economic development. The long term project goal is the development of a sustainable food system for Sitka through empowerment and education. Expected outcomes include an increase in local food production, small business development, and improved household-level food security and local food consumption.

Salmon being prepped for pressure canning. PHOTO: Amy Gulick

This will ideally be achieved through the establishment of a shared-use commercial kitchen. Sitka Kitch does not have a permanent facility yet but is currently partnering with the First Presbyterian Church to provide limited access. The Sitka Kitch Committee prepared a proposal to the Church’s national organization and received a $13,000 grant to upgrade the facility for commercial use and we hope to start working with small businesses in the fall. “Sitka Kitch” also offered three classes in July (exceeding one of our goals for the 2014 health summit!). We were able to bring in Sarah Lewis from the UAS Cooperative Extension office to run the classes. Class themes revolved around the primary objectives of Sitka Kitch – cottage food industry development and maximizing household level food security through preservation of food. We had the added bonus of welcoming Amy Gulick to class (Salmon in the Trees) who was on hand to photograph people interacting with salmon! The courses were held at our partner facility, the FIrst Presbyterian Church of Sitka and at Sitka High School.

Pretty maids in a row, pickled veggies fresh from their baths

Overall class metrics:
Total student hours: 136
Total students/participants among classes: 34
Individual participants: 25 ( a few students took multiple classes)

Cottage Food Industry: 8 in attendance, 7 female, 1 male.
Class focus was on cottage food industry (rules and guidelines for what you can sell, how it must be prepared)
Kitch goal: educate locals on small, local food based business to encourage product development for farmers market and other ‘booth’ vending type events.
Class cost was $20 per participant, 3 hours

Canning the harvest: 17 in attendance, 13 female, 4 male.
Class focused on handling and processing of meat, fish and vegetables for canning preservation.
Kitch goal: educate community members about proper canning techniques and how to maximize preservation of subsistence and other harvests, as well as store bought or bulk purchased produce. This was partly in response to the community food assessment information that found 90% of food preservation methods in Sitka was reported as freezing.
Class cost was $20 per participant, 5 hours

Jams and Jellies: 9 in attendance, all female Class focused on multiple recipes for preparing jams, jellies, catsups. Kitch goal: a fun twist on conventional canning, creative ways to produce and preserve local berries and food products
Class cost was $20 per participant, 3 hours

Aug 04 2014

Sitka Seafood Festival Celebrates Salmon in the Tongass

The fish head throwing competition was just one of the many games and competitions at the Sitka Seafood Festival on Saturday, August 5.

The last marathoner in the Sitka Cross Trail Classic ran confidently across the finish line as the Sitka Seafood Festival parade started to get underway on Saturday.  Floats spewing bubbles and candy made their way down Lincoln Street towards the Sheldon Jackson campus just before noon on August 5 as just one part of a weekend-long celebration of successful wild fisheries in the Tongass National Forest.

Floats traveled down Lincoln Street on a sunny and clear Saturday morning, just before the marketplace opened at the fourth annual Sitka Seafood Festival.

“It’s a celebration of how lucky we are,” Cherie Creek, a regular volunteer at the festival, said.  “We are a seaport and have tons of fisheries and fresh food.”

On Aug. 1 and 2, the community gathered for the fourth annual Sitka Seafood Festival.  The festival included a marathon, kids’ races, cooking demonstrations, food booths, festival games, a fish head toss and the parade.

While it is a community event, Creek said she enjoys having people from out of town join in the festival activities.  Her favorite event of the festival is the children’s crab races.

Food booths like this one, which served King salmon and crab legs, filled the marketplace. Hundreds filed into the marketplace after the parade to try different seafood treats.

The Sitka Seafood Festival is a great way to “show off to visitors how important seafood is to the Sitka community,” Lon Garrison, president of the Sitka School Board said.  He said he enjoys celebrating the well-managed and sustainable resource of the Tongass every year.

Garrison also participated in a new event at the festival this year: the Fish to Schools recipe contest.  He helped judge 8 different recipes provided by locals to find the new recipe to be used in local schools this fall.  The Fish to Schools program, initiated by the Sitka Conservation Society, brings locally caught fish into school cafeterias twice a month.

At an event new to the Sitka Seafood Festival this year, judges gathered to decide which local, kid-friendly recipe would be a part of the Fish to Schools program this fall. The Fish to Schools program brings locally caught fish to school lunches twice a month in Sitka and is now a state-funded program.

One in ten jobs in Sitka is related to the fishing industry and the Tongass National Forest provides 28 percent of all salmon produced in the state of Alaska, so the festival really does rejoice in local endeavors.  It’s something outsiders can’t help but take notice of.

“Everyone I’ve met has some kind of tie to fishing,” Ali Banks, a visiting Chicago chef said. “It really drives everything.”

Banks teaches in a recreational cooking school in Chicago and uses salmon from Sitka Salmon Shares in her classes.  She said she encourages her students to buy wild rather than farmed fish because there really is a difference in quality. She also writes basic and fun recipes for the Sitka Salmon Shares website, which distributes mostly in the Midwest.

Chicago chef Ali Banks taught a small crowd how to make homemade pesto for seared coho. She said many were surprised by her choice of recipe, but she wanted to bring a creative flair to a dish that people in Sitka eat all the time. In Chicago, eating fresh fish is a novelty, she said, so Chicagoans like to dress up their fish perhaps more than Sitkans would.

Traveling to Sitka for the seafood festival was a real treat for Banks.  She spent a few days in Sitka out on a boat fishing.  “I got the best Alaska has to offer,” she said. “I love knowing where my food comes from.”

Sitka, a community of 9,000, will continue to celebrate the success of the wild fisheries in the Tongass National Forest all summer long.

Aug 04 2014

Final Summer Boat Cruise

Join the Sitka Conservation Society on their last boat cruise of the season!  

On Tuesday, Aug. 19, SCS will set sail with Allen Marine tours to explore the salmon of Sitka Sound.  Lon Garrison, aquaculture director at the Sitka Sound Science Center will be on board as a guide and to answer questions.  Come learn about the importance of salmon to the Tongass National Forest and have some fun on a Tuesday night!

Tickets are on sale at Old Harbor Books beginning Aug. 5.  The cost is $40 per person.

The boat cruise will depart Crescent Harbor at 5 p.m. and return at 8 p.m., boarding begins at 4:45 p.m.

Don’t miss the last chance to take a SCS cruise this summer! 

 

Jul 21 2014

Tourism in the Tongass: The Mendenhall Glacier

Alaska hosted close to 2 million visitors between May 2013 and April 2014, shattering its previous annual visitor record by more than 5,000 people.  Not surprisingly, about 1.7 million of those visitors came in the summer months, but last winter did see a 4 percent increase in out-of-state visitation, according to statistics published by the Alaska Department of Commerce.

“Alaska is a worldwide recognized brand,” Dan Kirkwood, outreach director for the Alaska Wilderness League said. When people hear Alaska they think wilderness, adventure, landscapes, hiking and outdoor activities, he explained.  “The market demand is for the natural beauty and for this wilderness experience”

Here in Southeast Alaska, where 17 million acres of the region is the Tongass National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service is the most important player in determining how tourists and residents alike use and experience the wilderness.  The U.S. Forest Service governs everything from timber sales to hunting to recreation.

Tourists from all over the United States venture to Southeast Alaska to see and experience the beauty and vastness of America’s largest national forest.  The U.S. Forest Service provides important and meaningful ways for people to experience the Tongass and one of the most visitor-friendly places is just 12 miles from Juneau at the Mendenhall Glacier visitor’s center.

The Mendenhall Glacier visitor’s center was built in 1961 and is the most visited attraction in the Tongass National Forest today, with tourists traveling from all across America for an amazing view of the river of ice.

The U.S. Forest Service built the Mendenhall Glacier visitor’s center in 1961.  It is the oldest Fores Service visitor’s center in the country and the most popular in Southeast Alaska today.   The glacier has retreated at an alarming rate in recent years.  Glaciers retreat when the ice melts at a faster rate than it is replaced every year.  While Mendenhall has been retreating since the mid-1700s, it has certainly sped up in recent years.  About 50 years ago, the glacier moved about 60 feet every year.  In 2011, the glacier retreated 437 feet!

Despite how far back the glacier has moved since the visitor’s center was built, the U.S. Forest Service has created a very visitor-friendly experience for people with varying degrees of outdoor experience.  Even closer and more astonishing views of the glacier are just a short walk up the path from the visitor’s center to Nugget Falls.  This short trail one of the most popular in Juneau.

The Mendenhall Glacier was named for Thomas Mendenhall, a former superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard and Geodetic Survey. The original name of the glacier was Auke Glacier, named by John Muir in 1879 for Aak’w Kwaan of the Tlingit Indians.

While the Mendenhall is retreating, it is far from disappearing and he number of visitors to the glacier is continually increasing.  Statistics provided by the Alaska Wilderness League show that in 2011 tourism contributed $1 billion and provided more than 10,000 jobs in Southeast Alaska.   And the most popular city to visit in the Southeast is Juneau.

Recent budget cuts to the recreation programs and the current management strategy of the U.S. Forest Service have made it very difficult for the agency to adjust to the growing demand of visitors in the area.  As tourism easily becomes the second most important industry for the Southeast Alaskan economy, behind sport and commercial fishing, the U.S. Forest Service is in the unique position to greatly impact how much this industry grows and contributes to the welfare of the region.

Travelers from all over the United States come to visit the very first visitor’s center built by the U.S. Forest Service.  Stars indicate where all of the following tourists traveled from.

Many tourists traveling through the Tongass do not know much about the nation’s largest national forest before they arrive.  But, through programs, films, exhibits, pamphlets, guides and talks provided by the U.S. Forest Service, visitors learn more and more about a forest that they can call their own.  After spending even just a short time there, they all agree it is beautiful and unlike any other forest they have ever seen.  Continue reading to meet some travelers from all over America and see what had to say about their trip to the Southeast.

Meet Mr. and Mrs. Sam Tortora from New York!

“We have never seen anything like this!  We don’t have this in New York,” the couple said of their first trip to Alaska.  Despite the pricey airfare, they both said they would come back.  ”It’s like being in Paradise!”

 

 

Meet Mary and Collette from Wisconsin! 

Mary is a former travel agent and has been to Alaska four times.  ”I just love Alaska,” she said.  ”It’s God’s country!”  Mary and Collette came in on a cruise to Juneau and spent their morning exploring the Mendenhall visitor’s center.

 

 

Meet Mike and Debbie from Oregon!

“I’m burnt out on the boat,” Mike said of his cruise experience.  ”I like being out.”  Mike and Debbie did not know much about the Tongass before they took a cruise to Alaska from Seattle, but they were enjoying what feels like countless views of glaciers and waterfalls.

 

 

Meet Lynnette and Teresa from Nebraska!

“This place is HUGE with all capital letters!” Lynnette said of the Tongass.  They have really enjoyed their trip to Alaska and are looking forward to the rest of their travels.

 

 

Meet Lynn and George from Florida!

Lynn and George have been to Alaska three times.  This time, they decided to travel more of the land and less of the sea and opted for independent travel, rather than a cruise ship.  They returned to Mendenhall Glacier to stay up to date and aware on the effects of climate change on the region they said.

 

 

Meet Peggy from Texas!

Peggy came in to Juneau on a cruise ship.  It’s her first time in Alaska and she described the Tongass as a “beautiful and huge ecosystem” unlike any she had ever seen before.

 

 

These are just a few faces of the thousands of visitors that venture to the Mendenhall Glacier this summer and there will be thousands more that will visit this public and pristine wilderness before the season is out.

Jul 18 2014

When you wish upon a star!

Volunteer geologist Kari Paustian accompanied the SCS cruisers on Sunday to offer her expertise about Kruzof.

There were XTRATUFS everywhere!  Though, a few souls did venture into the tide pools without them.  On a foggy and misty Sunday morning, some brave adventurers, sponsored by the Sitka Conservation Society, ventured to Kruzof to learn about intertidal species.  The shore was spotted with sea stars and there was quite a bit to learn about this wilderness that presents itself just a few hours every day.

Did you know there are 2,000 species of sea stars?

Not all live here in Southeast Alaska, but this region has the highest amount of diversity of these species.

Sea stars – sometimes referred to as starfish – are not actually fish.  They do not have gills, fins, or scales.  They pump nutrients through their body with salt water because they do not have blood.  They have at least 5 legs, but some have as many as 40!

This is a sunflower sea star. These guys can be up to 3 feet wide and weigh as much as 60 pounds. They feed on clams and crabs and can move pretty quickly through the water. Well, they are no cheetahs, but they get around.

The biggest predators of sea stars are other sea stars. When sea stars feel threatened, they have the ability to shed one of their legs (which they will regrow later) so that a predator might eat that leg and leave them alone.

We hope you enjoyed learning as much as we did!

Jul 15 2014

Building a local food movement from the front yard

When Southeast Alaskans think of local food, we usually think of foraging, fishing and hunting. In the realm of produce, however, we have become accustomed to eating fruits and vegetables shipped in from the lower 48 and around the globe.  But a gardening movement is on the rise around the islands. In Sitka, a city with no agricultural property, people have been working with the city to create ways to grow and sell local produce. Like all southeast towns, Sitka has a small and strong community, which makes negotiating with local lawmakers to change the structure of land and food policy more direct and personal. With the farmer’s markets gaining steam and gardens springing up all over town, the future of the local food movement in Sitka is bright. But it has taken many pioneers to get it on its feet.

Lori Adams says, “She couldn’t do any of this without the ducks.” Her feathered friends help her control the slug population.

One of those leaders is Lori Adams, owner and operator of Down-to-Earth You-Pick garden. She was raised on a farm in Oregon and moved to Sitka to fish with her husband in the 80s. With no dirt to play in, living on a fishing boat was a rough adjustment. Once she and her husband bought property of their own, however, Lori began scheming up plans to get back to veggie production. “I just have farming in my roots and dirt under my fingernails,” she told me, “and it won’t go away. And I always wanted to farm, and we moved up here and I just decided that I would farm where I went.”

The view from Sawmill Creek Road of Lori’s epic front yard

Lori wanted to create her own You-Pick garden where she could sell her produce to customers who came to her house to harvest it directly from her front yard. “Where I grew up a You-Pick garden was a common thing,” she explained, “… So, I feel like it’s really important to grow my own food and teach other people how to grow their own food. And many of the children who grow up here have never seen a carrot in the ground, have never picked a pea off the vine, and so they just don’t have a connection like that with their food.” With a You-Pick garden, she could satisfy her farming itch, while also giving Sitkans the opportunity to learn about gardening and create a more intimate relationship with how their food is grown.

Immediately she called the planning department to ask for a permit to start a You-Pick garden. “They looked at me with a blank look and said, ‘You want to do what?’” As the law stood in 2007, it was illegal to sell produce directly off of private property and to allow people to harvest their own vegetables. Luckily, the people at the planning department were willing and excited to work with Lori. They thought it was such a good idea that they wanted to help her make it legal. “So we spent 6 months changing the zoning laws and going to the assembly meetings, and once it was worked out it turned out that anyone in Sitka could have a you-pick garden if they applied for a special use permit.” Now, any one in Sitka who applies for a special use permit can start a You-Pick garden right on their property.

Today, Lori has a whole community of return customers. They love coming up to her property, picking her brain about gardening, greeting the ducks, and harvesting their own kohlrabi, kale, leeks, onions, sorrel, lettuce and other cold-weather-loving vegetables.  But Lori is just as excited to sell her produce as she is to teach others how to garden, or even how to create their own You-Pick. “That’s my hope,” she told me, “that they’ll sprout up all over and it will just become a common thing.”

Whether or not her story inspires others to create a You-Pick, her collaboration with the planning department is certainly a testament to the responsiveness of Sitka’s local government to new ideas addressing issues of local food. Property may be expensive and limited, but there is plenty of room for innovation, and stories like Lori’s certainly aren’t in short supply! Go to sitkawild.org to hear more stories or to share a story about building sustainable communities in Southeast. You can also learn more about Lori on her blog. If you are interested in getting involved in the local food movement, visit the Sitka local food network’s website.

Jul 09 2014

Hanging out with Captain Hook

“Even a rainy day in Sitka is better than a good day at work!” both Denise (right) and Maureen (left) agreed on their first and only day here in town.

Denise and Maureen have been friends for 15 years.  They both participate in the same women’s group in Fort Collins, Colorado and love to travel.  In the past, their adventures have taken them to India and Thailand.  But, this summer, they set their sights on Alaska and they are already planning their return.

On their only day in Sitka, Denise and Maureen headed out on a Gallant Adventures wildlife tour with Paul Davis.  Paul has lived in Sitka for about 15 years and enjoys leading wildlife tours on his boat around the islands of the Southeast.
As we headed out on the rainy Tuesday morning, Paul told Denise and Maureen he has only had one tour where his guests did not see any whales.  Lucky for the two of them, they were not the second tour to have that unfortunate fate.

Humpback whale named Hook.

This is Hook.  Paul named this humpback four years ago when he first saw it because of the hooked nature of its dorsal fin.  The whale, Paul estimates, is more than 40 feet long and weighs about 35 tons.  Captain Hook is actually an adult female whale.

Hook begins to dive.

And down she goes!

But, the wildlife tour didn’t end there.  Denise and Maureen had already seen grizzlies near Mt. McKinley on their driving tour up north, but they were pretty excited to come across this guy near Redoubt Bay as the salmon were coming in.

Caught this bear looking for salmon near Redoubt Bay.

The tour also included some sitings of otters,

A mom and pup on the left see another sea otter come up on the right.

rhinoceros auklets,

Rhinoceros auklets have horns on the edges of their beaks and white feathers under their eyes.

and sea stars.

Purple and pink sea stars dot the tide lines of the islands.

Even as the rain poured down and the two jostled around on the bumpy sea, they both agreed, “A rainy day in Sitka is better than a good day at work!”
Jun 30 2014

Conclusion: Investigating a Responsible Timber Industry on the Tongass (6 of 6 part series)

The Sitka Conservation Society is working with a team of stakeholders to advise the US Forest Service and amend the Forest Plan for our beloved Tongass National Forest. To ground our vision and better understand what timber on the Tongass looks like today, we left our insulated home of Sitka to visit Prince of Wales Island. Under the mentorship of Michael Kampnich, a field representative for the Nature Conservancy in Alaska, we were greeted by 4 millers who shared a great variety of wisdom and insight. Last week, we revisited these mills, by sharing their stories and revealing how their insight is helping inform our vision as a Conservation Society.

We can not pretend that after having a handful of discussions with millers on POW that we know everything about logging in the Southeast. For one, we were not able to connect with Viking, the larger engineered mill that consumes the highest volume of old-growth timber, performs minimal on-site processing and whose business model currently relies on exporting a high percentage of raw or minimally processed wood. Viking also supports infrastructure on the island that enables smaller mills to stay in business. Our positions are adapting and changing and influenced by our relationships with these millers, our members, and our ideals.  As we move forward, we can maximize our common ground and seek changes to timber management that give a strong foundation to this ground.

Our take-home messages were many. A handful of key themes were identified and require follow up. Defining a sustainable and responsible timber industry on the Tongass is grounded in careful forest management. The ecological integrity of our forest and its great variety of resources feed our residents and support strong industries in salmon, timber, recreation and tourism.

The great variety of multiple uses of our rainforest resources must always be balanced with, not foreshadowed by timber and unrealistic target board-foot goals.

The Forest Service needs to shift away from unsustainable timber volume targets, as ultimately this management system has failed to meet the needs of Southeast Alaskans. Instead, The focus needs to move towards what the landscape, and communities that depend on it, can sustain over the long-term.

We want timber resources used responsibly and for the highest value possible. Wood that could be turned into a mandolin or rot-resistant decking, should be recognized for its highest value use and manufactured as such. We want to support local job creation not just in the short term, but careers that can be passed to future generations within and across families.  We want to empower Alaskan residents to source their wood products locally to support the vibrant and healthy local mill industry so that it can continue to grow and support rural Alaskan communities in the long term. We support the development of a timber sale structure that maximizes regional benefits and retains healthy old-growth characteristics and functions even in logged stands through selective harvests. Collectively, we must push forward timber sale structures and contracts that prioritize keeping the most money, the greatest amount of jobs and the largest amount of wood in the region that needs it,  Southeast Alaska. The micro sale program, which  allows the selective harvest of dead and fallen old-growth wood in proximity to specific roads, is an example of small-scale and valuable timber program that we intend to support. The success of this program depends on keeping  a selection of existing roads open. We want to seek policy action and management change that will grow a healthy and sustainable, well managed timber industry on the Tongass long into the future.

Much like the small mill operators we visited with on Prince of Wales Island, these Sitkans want to see more local timber being used in our community. All of these contractors, builders and millers work to keep Tongass Timber local.

Jun 27 2014

Eliminating Waste and Export with Good Faith (5 of 6 part series)

<—”We aren’t really city folk”: Keith Landers and H&L Salvage (4 of 6 part series)

This is a view of the Good Faith Lumber facility. Workers are processing solid slabs of lumber into smooth table tops.

 

Good Faith Lumber, far surpassed our expectations as far as size and workload. Good Faith is owned by three Thorne Bay residents with a combined experience in the wood industry of over 92 years!  We walked around the facility and watched big beautiful slabs of old-growth lumber being planned and finished into gorgeous table tops. The employees were all busy at work water blasting gravel from the raw wood, operating heavy machinery and soaking in the opportune hot Southeast Sun. We met with Hans on his break.

These rustic slab tables are planned smooth to perfection and will make for a gorgeous, high-quality, unique table top.

“It’s busy especially this time of year, it gets busy. Lots of orders coming in. People wanting to build cabins or homes you know.”

We asked Hans about his history and relationship with Alaskan timber. He stressed his dedication to in-region manufacturing as opposed to wholesale export of raw lumber and job opportunities to markets outside of Alaska.

Hans leans against some dimensional lumber manufactured from second-growth trees

“We all have the same mindset for the future. None of us want to get rich and leave. We want to see this thing working. We want to see the wood stay here. Frankly, I’d like to not see any export at all. I’d like it all manufactured right here on the island rather than send it to Japan or wherever else but right now it’s a necessary evil.”

We agreed with Hans. Our valuable timber should be carefully and responsibly managed. The lumber should be used in a way that maximizes benefits to the region and our local rural communities. Rather than mass export raw products to Asian markets or companies in the lower 48, this wood can, and should be used to create jobs and valuable products right here in Southeast Alaska where jobs, and a stable economy are so desperately needed. How can we better incentivize in-region manufacturing? This is a question and goal that needs more exploration.

By using a high power pressure hose to spray down raw lumber, this worker removes bits of grit and rock that would otherwise dull the heavy machinery

We continued our tour and noticed, smoke billowing out above a gravel mountain from the corner of the property. This is where waste wood is burned. Around fifty percent of a given log can be wasted and unfortunately, as it is now, these local mill operations are left to burn the leftovers. Keith Landers and Hans expressed a common guilt and sadness for burning this waste. Removing wood from the forest only to end up using half of it to fuel a continuous bonfire is a modern tragedy in the Southeast. Wasted wood can and should be used to fuel creative markets and heat homes in a region where incredibly high energy costs debilitates our economy and leaves residents scrambling to pay utility bills. This waste is not only problematic at the stage of manufacturing and processing, the floor of clearcuts and thinned forests are often littered with abandoned wood, disregarded as ‘non merchantable’.

Eliminating the waste stream in our industry requires both societal and political change. For one, building a culture that admires defect, that refuses to burn waste wood when it can be manufactured into unique and functional products. This wasted wood could also heat homes. Exploring a sustainable ‘biomass’ industry that could fuel Southeast Alaska and reduce exorbitant energy costs for rural Alaskans is on the agenda of everyone from SCS and the Forest Service to the millers themselves. Four mill owners on Prince of Wales, including Keith Landers and Good Faith Lumber, are interested in partnering to turn waste wood into chips or pellets for sale to local markets. The success of a localized biomass industry, depends on regional markets. The Forest Service is exploring biomass utilization schemes. This exploration and the related initiatives have not yet trickled down into action on the ground, in the communities and across industries where it is needed.

There are a number of policy changes that can also help eliminate wood waste at its source. As it is now, the US Forest Service has a very relaxed definition of ‘merchantable’ wood. This allows the winning timber sale bidder to leave behind high volumes of ‘slash’ or cut and abandoned ‘unmerchantable’ wood on the floor of a clearcut. Policies like this incentive our current timber culture that lags far behind the lower 48 as far as eliminating waste streams and maximizing industry efficiency per board foot.

Waste wood is currently burned at H&L Salvage and Good Faith lumber. This wood could be processed into chips or pellets and used to heat homes here in rural Alaska. Four local millers across Prince of Wales island are interested in starting a biomass industry to use this wasted wood. Starting a biomass industry is dependent on having boilers and markets to sell to.

One way to eliminate old-growth waste is by encouraging selective logging and only cutting the trees that are wanted. By leaving trees standing, rather than cutting and ultimately abandoning on the clearcut floor, this practice better protects forest structure that would otherwise be lost under a clearcut regime. In many situations, the USFS requires all trees to be cut. The resultant forest consists solely of trees of the same age. Once the canopies close, these even-aged trees block out the sun and prevent a healthy understory from growing. In order to speed growth, restore habitat diversity and improve function for deer and other wildlife, these stands are periodically thinned- often at great cost. Under a partial, selective-harvest regime, a certain percent of the multi-aged structure of the stand is retained. The resulting forest avoids complete canopy closure and the subsequent detriment to wildlife. Therefore, costly thinning procedures are no longer required and the ecological integrity of the forest prevails.

View of the wasted wood and ‘slash’ left behind after a clearcut harvest. Photo taken on Prince of Wales Island, Logjam timber sale

The Tongass already contains vast tracts of clearcut land and subsequent young-growth forest. Additional, mass clearcutting of our vanishing old-growth forest is wasteful and costly in both economic and environmental terms. Future old-growth harvests should focus on reducing needless waste and destruction of valuable wildlife habitat by leaving a selection of trees standing and only removing those which meet the specific needs of the logger. By being more selective and prudent in the way we harvest our forests we can achieve common goals and bridge the differences between those driven by economic and conservation goals.

We left Good Faith Lumber and stopped distracting the very busy workers from the tasks at hand. Good Faith Lumber produces large quantities of high quality dimensional lumber and their products are in high demand. We thanked Hans and his colleagues for their time and piled back in the rig to ruminate on and discuss all the insight and wisdom these delightful woodworkers shared with us.

Check back next week for the conclusion and summary of our visit to Princce of Wales.

Jun 26 2014

“We aren’t really city folk”: Keith Landers and H&L Salvage (4 of 6 part series)

We rolled up to our next stop to visit Keith Landers at H&L Salvage. Keith has been making shingles here for twenty years. In the last decade, H&L began manufacturing dimensional lumber as well. Landers was eager to chat and there was no shortage, or filter, to the wisdom he was willing to share about the industry, society, timber sales and even his opinion of environmentalists. When we asked him how he found himself in the Alaskan industry he smirked.

“You want to know how I came here?  I came here because of the spotted owl okay.”

Keith’s operation in Oregon was shut down with the controversial protection of the Northern Spotted Owl. Keith didn’t blame the owl, but he was concerned about environmentalists abstaining from level-headed discussions with millers and loggers. We need to obtain wood from somewhere and displacing logging activity from the United States, to say- the Amazon Tropical Rainforest is a ‘not in my backyard’ attitude that doesn’t tackle the roots of the problem- overuse, waste and unsustainable management. He also reminded us that unlike historical logging in Southeast Alaska, when loggers were often transient visitors who worked out of logging camps and eventually packed up and left when the season or era ended, today’s workforce is here to stay.

“The people that are here now are people that are living here, this is where their family is, they purchased property, this is where they live and it’s the last thing anyone wants to do here is dirty the water, dirty the air, and massive cut our forest to the point where environmentally it’s hurting the animals, the water- that type of thing. The people here are very conscious about the environment and how we should handle this forest, we live here.”

It’s a family affair at H&L Salvage. Carmen Landers, Keith’s wife, is an expert woodworker. Here, she is taking the large cords of wood and slicing and processing them into shingles.

Like most residents of Southeast Alaska, Landers and his employees depend on the forest for more than economic prosperity.

“We invite anybody to come and visit us and see the way we see the forest. Not necessarily, do I see it strictly as as a way to make a living. There are many different uses in this forest and we use it in many different ways. From berry picking, to subsistence, we live off of this land here. We are one of the few people that are able to do that still, and we want to protect that. That is why a lot of us came here, because of the way we still get to live. We aren’t really city people.”

Landers let out a belly laugh and Marjorie and I nodded in unison. Most Alaskans aren’t really ‘city people’ after all. Recognizing our common goals is necessary for defining a sustainable timber future for the Tongass. We need to break down this false dichotomy that pits environmentalists against all development initiatives. This summer, the Tongass Advisory Committee and the Tongass Land Management Plan amendment process will put our capacity to collaborate to the test as industry representatives, environmentalists and other stakeholders discuss face to face what the future of timber on the Tongass should be. Landers stressed the importance of securing a long-term timber plan. He emphasized the particular devastation this ambiguity and uncertainty has on small mills. Uncertainty in the industry prevents small operators from investing in growth, innovation, retooling and even replacing damaged and outdated equipment that impacts productivity and poses a safety risk.

“The timber industry needs to have a twenty year plan- at least, because of the expenses involved. That guy right there, when it was new [points to excavator] costs 700,000 dollars- that’s a lot of second growth and old growth…That’s what I would like to see, everyone get together and try and make a decision about what we are going to do on the Tongass instead of all this uncertainty.”

Of course, this constant uncertainty is also taxing on the well-being of workers and their family who are interested in continuing, growing and supporting the family business. As is the case with Landers, “My son would like to move back into the company again if we can see some longevity in the industry.”

Raw cords of lumber are being processed speedily into finished shingles. These workers were poised and moving so incredibly fast, the sawdust was flying!

So why should we support small mills? Supporting the longevity of these operations benefits those directly involved with the mill: the owners, employees and family members. The direct impact can be pretty substantial, these operations provide quite a few stable local jobs.

“The small mills are high in employment – it takes us quite a few guys to produce a board due to the fact that we are not as efficient as an engineered mill. So, [small mills] may not have the type of payroll that some of the larger mills have but there is longevity in having more small mills than just one large mill. If one large mill goes down, the impact that it has on the communities is huge. Whereas if one small mill goes down, there’s very little impact. ”

Cords of chopped wood moving down the line to become shingles

As Keith points out, having a number of smaller operations not only supports more jobs. It also provides a security to rural towns that a single, large scale operation does not. In the past, when a small mill goes out of business, other operations, like H&L Salvage hire laid-off employees and pick up the slack. If large scale timber industries go under, like the giant pulp operations of the past for example, the ensuing devastation to communities is much more severe.

We toured the facility and witnessed raw lumber being sliced up and processed into shingles at the hands of specialized machines and talented woodworkers. My ears were ringing and sawdust soon coated every cranny of my camera. I started to wonder whether our Nikon warranty covers sawdust damage but was quickly distracted and refocused on the scene before me. The sheer enormity of the operation and the amount of talent and work required to turn trees into shingles was startling.

 Keith gave us insight and a marked goal: how can we support these local operations, maximize benefits to our communities and minimize irreversible degradation to our environment? We need to quell the animosity between environmentalists and the timber industry, recognize our common goals and draft a timber plan.

How can we better design timber sales to support small scale local millers?

Part of that entails designing small manageable sales that attract bids from smaller operations. Michael Kampnich, Field Representative from The Nature Conservancy and our avid tour guide and mentor, explained the need for ‘no export provisions’ on a selection of timber sales to level the playing field. According to Michael,

“As it is now, its apples against oranges and mill owners who want to focus on a higher percentage of local processing are at a disadvantage when bidding on sales that include an export provision.”

The builders of this house in Sitka, Alaska sourced their shingles from H&L Salvage (left) detail of the stacks of finished shingles (right)

‘No export provisions;’ on targeted timber sales would incentivize in-region manufacturing of raw lumber and help small mills fairly compete for, and win, small timber sale bids. As Landers pointed out, small mills are high in employment, provide stable jobs, and use wood resources on a sustainable scale. However, many of the woodworkers we met, including Landers, stressed the important balance of larger and small mills. The larger, more engineered mills (mainly Viking Lumber) support regional infrastructure that the smaller mills, and communities more generally, depend on (e.g. barge, road systems etc.). It’s a tricky balance and one that will require more thought, fieldwork and discussions in communities with a great variety of stakeholders. Understanding the impact this balance has on our forests, how we can more carefully and responsibly craft timber sales is also an important piece of the puzzle.

We thanked Landers for his wisdom, dusted ourselves (and our camera equipment) off and left R&L Salvage for our next stop, Good Faith Lumber.

Keith Landers stands in front of lumber from a recent timber sale. This raw lumber will be processed into shingles and dimensional lumber on site and in the process, provide ample employment opportunities to communities that need it.

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