Sitka Conservation Society
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.

Jun 25 2014

Harvesting Musicwood from the Rainforest: Meet Larry the Logger (3 of 6 part series)

<—- “Just Listen”: Meet A Family of Musicwood Producers (2 of 6 part series)

Larry’s unconventional office by the roadside

We rambled down a maze of logging roads in search of the bucket Larry left by the road to signify our pulloff. Eventually, we spotted the bucket and a sedan pulled conspicuously off the gravel. We were greeted  by Larry Trumble who owns and operates Wood Marine a soundboard manufacturer. Larry is intriguing. He often speaks about himself in the third person and mumbles off topic pretty regularly. All his idiosyncrasies contribute to his charm and we were eager to follow him to his worksite. We trudged behind him up the cliffside. Larry maneuvered through the forest with an unexpected agility and grace. It became clear that Larry spends a lot of time in the Tongass. We balanced behind him, filed up the trunk and along the spine of his treasured Sitka Spruce. We arrived to his ‘office’ and Larry quickly began rigging up a makeshift antenna so he could access some motivational music before he began harvesting future soundboards from the spruce laying before him.

“.. It’s always country music,”  he murmured in disappointment once the sound waves hit our spot. He began to work, splitting the spruce and hammering out pieces with the occasional curse and remark about the quality of each block, “It’s a pig in a poke, a pig in a poke!”

The view was inspiring. We were perched on a huge stump, balanced on a cliffside, overlooking a calm and misty afternoon settle across the Tongass and coast. The peace was quickly interrupted by the sawing and chatter of Larry. Larry wasn’t used to having guests tag along; he talked incessantly. He commented how in most cases, he hikes across rough terrain and eventually camps beside his beloved spruce for the time it takes to buck it up.

Larry Trumble chops up a dead Sitka Spruce for musicwood production. Larry operates under the US Forest Service’s microsale timber program that allows applications and bids for dead and down timber along designated roads in the Tongass

The work was hard and I felt a bit guilty snapping photos and asking questions while he sweat and toiled over his woody bounty. This particular spruce will take Larry an estimated five weeks to process between chopping up the tree, packing down to the wood, processing the raw lumber into a ‘book set’ for soundboards, drying and selling. Larry will salvage about six trees a year and produce from the raw lumber, valuable book sets that will be sold at a high price to a variety of guitar markers across the country. Trumble stressed the rarity of musicwood trees and emphasized how this invaluable resource should be managed to incentivize the in-region manufacturing of high value added products like soundboards.

It doesn’t get more ‘small scale’ than Larry. He prospects for trees alone and chops up the wood by himself. He processes and sells the boards on his own and it only takes six selectively harvested dead and down trees a year to sustain his valuable business providing musical instruments for the world. He’s an atypical kind of guy, that flourishes in an atypical ‘self employed’ type of business. The kind of peculiar resident that gives rural Alaska its distinct character.

Keeping characters like Larry in business requires more than just the careful management of old-growth trees. According to Larry, “The most important thing for keeping the microscale program going is keeping roads open.”

Larry navigated the landscape with agility and grace, it was clear he spends a lot of time in the Tongass

The US Forest Service intends to close fifty percent of existing roads across the region. These musicwood businesses operate under the US Forest Service’s microsale program and as Larry points out, depend on access to old-growth stands in timber designated areas to prospect and find appropriate dead wood that meet the stringent qualifications for musicwood.

The microsale program is a valuable timber initiative that facilitates the extraction of high value products from fallen trees within a short distance of particular road systems. Programs of this scale and minor environmental disturbance should be supported and efforts taken to prevent subsistence loggers like Larry, who obey all protocols and responsibly extract a high value product from dead trees on an already disturbed roadside, from being forced out of business. Existing roads that the Forest Service made, are depended on by Larry and other residents and businesses across the region. This is particularly evident on Prince of Wales. A careful selection of existing roads should be maintained for sustainable timber microsales and to maintain access into forest stands for management activities such as silvicultural thinning and restorative restoration. Instead of focusing efforts on building additional roads, the Forest Service could instead maintain the ones we have. The specific roads that access timber designated areas, support a valuable and diverse microsale industry that is becoming increasingly relevant on the Tongass as large-scale mass timber harvests subside and small, value added, innovative woodworking enterprises flourish.

Larry’s operation is the definition of ‘small scale’. He prospects for trees alone and chops up the wood by himself. He processes and sells the boards on his own and it only takes six selectively harvested dead and down trees a year to sustain his valuable business providing musical instruments for the world.

We left Larry to his work and jumped into our rig. As we drove past, we could hear a chainsaw firing up somewhere hidden in the treeline. Musicwood producers on Prince of Wales Island showed us how you can flip an astonishing profit from the careful use of a small amount of dead old-growth spruce. We left the glamorous world of musicwood behind and headed next to a mill where we would learn a thing or two about shingles, dimensional lumber and spotted owls. Tune in tomorrow. 

The Microsale program depends on access to dead and down old-growth spruce located by the roadside

Jun 23 2014

Subsistence in Wilderness

The day we headed out from Hoonah was like most days in Southeast Alaska. Grey clouds diffused the light and an almost imperceptible rain left everything damp.  We were headed to the Inian Islands, a cluster of knobby isles on the western end of Icy Strait, just inside the entrance to Cross Sound.  Our trip held a dual mission: to conduct volunteer wilderness monitoring for the Forest Service and to gather traditional subsistence foods for the Hoonah locals on the trip: Owen James and Gordon Greenwald, our boat captains and wizened culture-bearers, two young men named Randy and Sam, and another adult volunteer, Kathy McCrobie.

The Inians along with two other large islands make up the Pleasant/Lemesurier/Inian Island Wilderness.  The PLI Wilderness is one of 19 areas within the Tongass National Forest designated as Wilderness, the highest form of protection public lands can receive. The islands are also historic gathering and hunting grounds of the Huna Tlingit, the native tribe who call this section of northern Southeast Alaska home.  Because the Inians are close to the open sea, they are rich with unique flora and fauna. A trip to these distant islands is an opportunity to collect delicacies not common in interior waters near Hoonah.  For instance, one of our subsistence targets was black seaweed, a species that thrives in the cold, wave washed intertidal zone of the outercoast, but is rarely found more than a few miles into the Southeast archipelago.

The Inian Islands are the perfect spot to collect black seaweed, a species that thrives in the cold, wave washed intertidal zone of the outercoast, but is rarely found more than a few miles into the Southeast archipelago.

The two students on the trip, Randy and Sam, collect seaweed which will be dried once they return to Hoonah.

It is easy to see why the Inian Islands have become a prime destination for recreation and tourism, as well as subsistence.


The outside waters can be a harsh place in the summer and downright inhospitable in the winter.  Although the Huna Tlingit are seasoned open ocean travelers and motorized skiffs make the 40-mile journey from the village of Hoonah to the islands much more manageable than a Tlingit canoe, it is still a sizable trip for locals. The same factors—difficult access and a short season—also make it difficult for the Forest Service Wilderness Rangers who are headquartered in Hoonah, to access these areas that they are tasked with managing and protecting.

On the first day of our trip we arrived at the Inian Islands after a few hours of skiffing over unusually calm waters.  Our first stop was at lowtide on a rocky beach, the perfect habitat for Black Katy chitons, one of the traditional foods commonly called Gumboots which we hoped to return with.

Black Katy chiton (Katharina tunicata) is a traditional food, commonly called Gumboots.

Owen instructs the students on the art of Gumboot hunting.

After the Gumboots have been collected, they are typically canned for preservation and storage.

Gumboots live in the intertidal zone, and are particularly susceptible to contamination from development and timber harvest. Wilderness designation ensures that these fragile ecosystems and the subsistence foods within will be protected in perpetuity.

The beach also looked like it could be a prime camping area, so while the rest of the crew flipped rocks and pried unsuspecting chitons from their hiding spots, I headed up the beach to look for recreational impacts.  Monitoring impacts from visitors is one of the tasks the Forest Service has asked us to assist with.  Wilderness areas are intended to preserve nature in its wildest state, but trash, campfire rings, and other signs of previous visitors detract from the wild character of these places.  Also, once a site has been impacted, the trend is a downward slope to a trashed site.  To prevent cumulative impact, we check known campsites and cleanup and naturalize any human traces we find.  Fortunately, this site was in the same condition it’s probably been in since it was uncovered by the glacier, so I spent some time flipping rocks and adding to the gumboots collection.
As the tide neared its apex, Gordon pointed out a small rock island set apart from the larger Inian Islands.  For generations, this rock had been the prize destination for Huna families.  Set far from land and too small to support trees, the rock is the perfect nesting ground for seabirds like gulls and cormorants and we had timed our trip perfectly to harvest the new eggs.  As we approached the rock in skiffs, Gordon and Owen explained the protocol: as the swell surges, we run the skiff up to the rock, one person jumps off, and he pulls the bow away before the swell drops the boat onto the shore, then reset and try again for the next person.  Before they maneuvered the skiffs toward the rock, they carefully taught the boys the traditional method to appropriately harvest the eggs. If done in an ecologically responsible way, these practices will be able to continue forever.  (Learn more about the regulation regarding egg collection by Alaskan Natives).

For generations, this small rock island within the Inian Islands has been a prize destination for Huna families seeking sea gull eggs.

As we approached the rock in skiffs, Gordon and Owen explained the protocol: as the swell surges, we run the skiff up to the rock, one person jumps off, and he pulls the bow away before the swell drops the boat onto the shore, then reset and try again for the next person.  Once on the rocks, Gordon instructed Sam and Randy to only take eggs from nests with multiple eggs, always leaving one behind.

“As we approached the rock in skiffs, Gordon and Owen explained the protocol: as the swell surges, we run the skiff up to the rock, one person jumps off, and he pulls the bow away before the swell drops the boat onto the shore, then reset and try again for the next person.”

Sam was the first to make the jump.  The birds immediately erupted in a cacophony of squawks and feathers. Randy and I traded apprehensive glances.  I made an excuse that I needed to pack my camera gear in drybags before I could jump…really I just wanted one more chance to see how it was done.  Randy landed an impressive leap, despite receiving a bootfull of water.  I followed him up the rock.  As a non-Native, without subsistence rights to the eggs, my job was to enjoy the view.  Blankets of birds flapped above us.  The few green tufts of grass made a stark contrast to the guano-bleached stone and the blue-grey sky and water.  It took no time for Sam and Randy to collect plenty of eggs to share with family and elders back in Hoonah.  With concentration, steady boat handling, and good timing, we all made it safely back aboard the skiffs.

“Blankets of birds flapped above us. The few green tufts of grass made a stark contrast to the guano-bleached stone and the blue-grey sky and water. It took no time for Sam and Randy to collect plenty of eggs to share with family and elders back in Hoonah.”

“I was impressed with the way Owen and Gordon pointed out new landmarks to the two young men. Every remark about a headland or bay included not only geographical references, but also historical, cultural, and subsistence context.”

As the day went on, I was impressed with the way Owen and Gordon pointed out new landmarks to the two young men.  Every remark about a headland or bay included not only geographical references, but also historical, cultural, and subsistence context.

That night, while we ate chowder made with local salmon, smoked octopus and cockles, I reflected on the education Randy and Sam had inherited on this trip.  I have no doubt that they were more interested in learning about hunting spots, edible shellfish, and traditional stories than they were about the Wilderness land designation of their home.  But, I would like to think that by relating the cultural values and subsistence practices of the Inian Islands along with the Wilderness values that will continue to protect this place for those practices, they have a better chance of retaining a favorable perspective of public lands, too.

In the end, the idea and values of Wilderness are stories, stories that must be repeated and retold to maintain their relevance.  Gordon and Owen have endeavored to pass those stories to Hoonah youth.  My esteem and thanks goes out to them for including the value of respect for public lands in the stories they tell.

Jun 23 2014

Investigating a Responsible Timber Industry on the Tongass: A Conservationist’s Perspective (1 of 6 part series)

The Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) formed almost fifty years ago when citizens banded together to take grassroots action to protect the natural environment of Southeast Alaska. Massive clearcuts were threatening our quality of life and the ecological integrity of our forests. Startlingly, the majority of these huge stands of temperate rainforest spruce and hemlock was being pulverized into pulp- hardly the best use of our globally rare and awe-inspiring trees. The pulp days brought transient economic stimulation and left behind clearcuts, impaired forest systems and rural communities desperate for sustainable economic stimulation and a more responsible timber industry.

The Sitka Conservation Society is investigating a sustainable timber future for Southeast Alaska. To do this, we must step beyond conventional conservation norms and engage actively and sincerely with timber operations across the Tongass.

Compared to the pulp behemoths of yesterday, the current logging scene on the Tongass is almost unrecognizable. Because the most economical, highest quality, and easiest to access trees have been cut, today’s timber industry is much smaller in size and scope. Tongass lumber is being used for products beyond pulp such as soundboards for guitars, dimensional lumber, shingles, and furniture.

The work of the Sitka Conservation Society is also changing. We work in a new atmosphere on the Tongass, where stakeholders prioritize the forging of collaborative partnerships to tackle regional challenges and capitalize on regional opportunity.

The need to promote a land management regime that represents sustainability, rather than the ‘boom-and-bust’ mentality of the past, in recognized as critical to the long-term prosperity of communities in Southeast Alaska. The composition of our forest is also changing. Clearcut areas are becoming commercially viable young-growth stands while old-growth forests become increasingly rare in the region and across the globe. The Tongass announced its Transition Framework in 2011, with the intent of moving forest management from an unsustainable and myopic focus on old-growth harvest to young-growth management and a more holistic approach to governing the Tongass.

Contrasting views of old-growth forest (top) and second-growth forest stand (below). To better understand the ecological significance of differing forest stands check out our ‘Understanding the Tongass Transition’ page

Andrew Thoms, executive director for SCS, has been named a member of the Tongass Federal Advisory Committee and SCS staff are busy meeting community members, recording interests, ground truthing timber harvests, and digging deeper and wider to understand timber on the Tongass. We intend to use these experiences, insight, values, and ideals to help inform the Tongass Advisory Committee process as it shapes future Tongass management. Our guiding question is simple:

How can we maximize local benefits to our communities here in the Southeast while minimizing negative impacts to the ecological integrity of the forest we depend on and love. How do we ensure long-term ecological integrity and renewable resource returns?

Easy enough, right? Wrong. Answering this question is no easy task. The stakeholders are many, the ways of achieving this are endless and the goal itself is a spectrum. As daunting a course this is, we are dedicated to the cause.

To ground our vision as conservationists, it is necessary to step beyond conventional norms and walk among the lumberjacks and millers for a while. How is old-growth lumber being used, processed and manufactured on the Tongass today?  We grabbed our field notebooks, left our insulated and cozy home of Sitka, hopped on a Harris Airplane and flew to Prince of Wales Island (POW)  where the action is.

Prince of Wales Island: Where the action is

Unlike Sitka and much of Southeast Alaska, POW is criss-crossed with roads, old logging roads to be specific. The network of asphalt connects the towns of POW as it winds through old-growth stands, clear cuts, over rivers, along estuaries, through valleys, and over mountain passes. Our travel guide was Michael Kampnich, the Field Representative for The Nature Conservancy on Prince of Wales. Kampnich arrived to Alaska in the 1980’s to log. He found a home in the area and never left. Kampnich has built a relationship with a few of the mills here on POW. Michael has a high regard for the effort it takes to operate and maintain these mills. Owners aren’t in an office directing others, they’re running the sawmill or operating one of the many pieces of equipment necessary to produce a shingle, a board or a piece of trim. Most of them are acquainted with Michael, and for that reason they were willing to break away from their busy schedule to chat with Marjorie and I.

Tune in tomorrow to meet Brent and Annette Cole of Alaska Specialty Woods. This family of musicwood producers has more than just a great story to share, check in to oogle at their gorgeous 2,800 year old ‘Ancient Sitka Line’ of soon-to-be guitars.

“Just Listen”: Brent and Annette A Family of Musicwood Producers (2 of 6 part series) —>

Follow along and meet Brent and Annette Cole of Alaska Specialty Woods, Larry Trumble of Wood Marine, Keith Landers of H&L Salvage and Hans of Good Faith Lumber

Jun 18 2014

Dargon Point Timber Sale – Local Wood, Local Benefits?

The Dargon point Timber sale was offered on May 10, 2014. Prospective bidders are given 30 days to respond in a sealed bid process. The estimated value, as appraised by the USFS appraisal system, for the 4,520 mbf* of young-growth timber offered was $440,035.85.  The official sale and opening of the bids was held on June 10, 2014 with four bids received as follows:

    • Frontier Inc.  $ 797,915.00
    • Good Faith Lumber   $ 682,800.00
    • SEALASKA Corp.   $ 626,236.00
    • Dahlstrom Lumber  $ 470,000.00

*This bid was for 309 MBF Hemlock  and 4,211 MBF Sitka Spruce young-growth.

So what’s the big deal? To understand the issues, let’s start form the beginning. The Dargon Point timber sale is a young-growth timber harvest involving 57.7 acres on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. This sale presents a unique, new economic opportunity and is one of the first of its kind in SE Alaska.  The sale provides large expanses of valuable and viable young-growth timber accessible by road, a characteristic uncommon in remote Alaska.

This is the Good Faith Mill in operation on Prince of Wales Island. Small mills provide stable jobs and economic diversification to our region. Supporting these valuable operations so that they can realistically compete for timber sales requires changes to the timber sale program and the US Forest Service appraisal system.

Dargon Point and the Transition Framework

The Dargon Point sale is significant because of the opportunity to stimulate the Tongass Transition and promote resilient, sustainable and economically diverse Southeast Alaskan communities by catalyzing in-region business development, in-region manufacture of value-added products, and more value-per-board-foot.  However, the same threat still exists, the exportation of the long-term benefits, along with jobs and profits, overseas. The size, logistical ease and value of the sale has attracted the attention of large-scale lumber exporters, primarily in Asian markets.

Dargon Point represents a real opportunity to stimulate economic diversification in the region. The Tongass Transition Framework was put forward by the US Department of Agriculture in 2010 with the support of communities, tribes, and entities throughout the region. The framework was initiated to stimulate job creation, address the dwindling supply of old-growth timber, and transition Southeast Alaska into a sustainable, economically diverse region with a healthy young-growth timber industry.

A large component of the Tongass transition involves moving the region out of old-growth timber harvest and into young-growth management. The outcome of the Dargon Point sale can set a promising precedent for the future of young-growth sales and stimulate a successful integrated transition.

Outdated Policy and Practices:

In 2012, during the NEPA scoping process, Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole promised expansive regional benefits

The project will be pretty wide-ranging in its impacts, from improving forest health and wildlife habitat to providing sawlogs to mills and job opportunities for local contractors…If approved, the young-growth volume will diversify the current Southeast Alaska timber industry”.  

However, these “wide-ranging” local impacts are unlikely to be realized if Cole, the US Forest Service and the region fail to address shortcomings in the current timber appraisal system. The existing appraisal system virtually eliminates local businesses by making it near impossible for small-scale miller operations to realistically compete with timber exporters. Timber sale layouts, offerings, harvest timing, and size, could be carried out in a responsible manner that encourages business investment, job growth, and value-added manufacturing in Alaska.   As it stands, the appraisal system does not fully capture the value that young-growth timber offers our region, nor does it catalyze local development.

This system needs to be reformed or amended to realistically support the values and goals of the Tongass Transition and value local processors for a young-growth industry. Alaska Region 10 is undoubtedly unique and has logistical, cultural and historical differences that need to be reflected in the governance of its natural resources. The system needs to encourage business investment and business development.

Second-growth lumber being prepared for processing at a small manufacturing mill on Prince of Wales Island.

In the last decade, the USFS has fore fronted the need to collaborate with partners as it realizes its mission across the United States. Many regional entities have been collaborating effectively with the USFS, local mills, schools, contractors, and businesses to ensure an efficient young-growth process that supports job creation, capacity building, economic diversification and a healthy future for our young-growth industry. For instance, the Nature Conservancy’s retooling loan fund intends to aid regional mills in building infrastructure for processing young growth. The Sitka Conservation Society has worked with partners to build young-growth community assets, test business plans and understand the best-use of young-growth wood.

All of these activities are in line with the USDA’s Strikeforce initiative, a “commitment to growing economies, increasing investments and creating opportunities in poverty-stricken rural communities”.  While Strikeforce and the Transition Framework support economic growth and a smaller scale timber industry suitable for SE Alaska, there is a marked disconnect between these initiatives and the sales being planned and offered. The success of the transition and the full, long-term benefits of our combined work cannot be realized without legitimate access to young-growth timber for local mills and businesses. The next major collaboration may be one that explores and evaluates the timber appraisal system and the goals of the US Forest Service. Do they want to develop and support a timber sale program that is appropriate to the scale and needs of Region 10? Or will it remain business as usual with our resources exported for others to profit from them.

Dargon Point: The Bottom Line:

All of these issues are evident when reviewing the bids put forth for the Dargon Point sale. In addition to the notable variety of bid amounts, one thing is evident; multiple buyers all see a value in young-growth timber.  However, this is likely due to the export market value. The USFS needs to follow suit and start valuing timber resources in a way that affords SE Alaska a future in young-growth timber. According to Keith Rush, Forester with The Nature Conservancy

Alaska uses about 80 million board feet of lumber every year. Almost all of this is young-growth lumber shipped up from the lower 48. Some of this could and should be processed locally.”

If the appraisal calculator were reflective of actual regional needs and the value of local resources, we would already be doing just that.   In-region processing must be represented in the appraisal system, if not promoted over export. Young-growth is a forest resource that is valuable and we should be moving the transition forward by investing in young-growth opportunities.

The solution is two-fold, first the USFS should design and offer young-growth sales that are scaled to benefit local processing rather than attract export companies. This means sales of less than 1 MMBF.   Secondly, designing and offering young-growth sales located on the existing road systems for local processing only will enable smaller outfits to be competitive in the bidding process.




May 30 2014

In Memory of Greg Killinger

Greg Killinger fell in love with Southeast Alaska when he volunteered with the US Forest Service in 1983.  During that first summer, he worked in fisheries surveying dozens of streams on Baranof and Chichagof Islands and other places on the Northern Tongass.  This first summer was enough to convince him that this was where he wanted to be.  He spent his next 30 years on the Tongass doing great things for our public lands and the natural world. Greg grew up in western Oregon.  He graduated from Oregon State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Science.  He went on to complete a master’s degree in Natural Resource Management. Greg married his wife Lisa Petro, a local Sitkan, in 1990.

We worked very close with Greg in his position as the Tongass lead staff officer for Fisheries, Wildlife, Watershed, Ecology, Soils, and Subsistence.  Greg held that post and worked under the Forest Supervisor from the Sitka Forest Service office.  In that position, he oversaw and helped with all the programs across the Tongass for fisheries and watersheds.  Greg was a key partner and helped build important relationships between the Sitka Conservation Society and the Forest Service.  With him, we worked together on salmon habitat restoration projects like the Sitkoh River Restoration, restoration projects on Kruzof Island, and many other salmon-related projects across the entire Tongass.

Our working relationship with Greg and his employees was so close that we even shared staff.  In 2011, SCS and Greg developed a position we called the Tongass Salmon Forest Resident.  SCS funded the position and they worked under Greg.  The position’s goal was to “tell-the-story” of all the innovative and important programs that Greg managed on the Tongass that protected, enhanced, and restored salmon habitat.  When SCS created the position, our goal was to shine the light on this great work.  Greg put the spotlight on his staff and the partners that he worked with to make the Tongass’s Fisheries and Watershed programs successful.  That was the kind of leader that he was:  he never wanted to take credit but always wanted to empower others and build more leadership and capacity.

That initial project led to two similar positions in 2012 and 2013.  Greg worked with SCS staff to make two beautiful short films that shared the story of important fisheries management programs.  One, called “Restoring America’s Salmon Forest”, illustrated a project Greg helped orchestrate that improved the health of the Sitkoh River—a major salmon producer damaged by past logging.  The other, “Subsistence in Southeast Alaska: The Tongass National Forest’s Fisheries Resource Monitoring Program”, showcases the importance of Tongass salmon for subsistence use. This film also highlights important joint fisheries projects that Greg’s program created with various Tribes across the Tongass. These programs continue to empower Native Alaskans to monitor important salmon runs across the region.  Greg understood the importance of sharing the story of Tongass programs with the larger public. He was driven to  showcase the importance of this forest in producing salmon and share how the Forest Service’s staff cares for salmon, fisheries, and wildlife habitat.  These films—and the many additional products that came from these partnerships—were catalyzed by Greg. Despite his heavy involvement, few recognized it was he who made them happen. Again, that was just the type of leader he was.  He empowered and inspired us as a key catalyst that made things happen but did so from the background, never seeking credit or recognition.

Greg cleaning a halibut after a day out fishing

Greg was also a serious outdoorsman.  He loved fishing for king salmon in the early summer and dip-netting for sockeye in July.  He was a very accomplished alpine hunter whose passion was chasing after sheep in the Alaska interior.  Greg did a number of epic hunts solo.  He once shared the story of a solo mountain goat hunt that he did during a particularly dry summer. He became severely dehydrated high in the mountains.  At one point he was crawling into a gorge looking for water while hallucinating because he had already been without water and under the sun for 2 days (in a rainforest!).  He did get his goat in the end though.

That type of solo hunting in big mountains really characterized the kind of person Greg was– not macho and he didn’t do any of that to show-off or to be the guy that got the biggest trophy– rather, he did those hunts for the pure challenge and as the highest form of communing with the natural world of Alaska.  Greg loved wildlife. He loved the land and the water and the oceans. He loved the ecosystems of Alaska and all the natural processes that tied them all together.   Hunting for him was one of the many ways that he was part of those ecosystems and part of how he connected with the natural world.

Greg didn’t just challenge himself on Dall Sheep hunts in the Alaska Range.  Greg took on enormous challenges in the work that he did and with the same calm and unassuming manner that he talked about his extreme outdoor exploits.  One isn’t the type of leader that Greg exemplified or is responsible for the variety and complexity of programs that Greg oversaw on a whim.  In fact, balancing all the issues and programs that Greg oversaw was more of a challenge than the hunts he loved so much.  Protecting salmon habitat under pressure from development, finding the resources and coordinating the partners to restore critical salmon systems, bringing together extremely diverse interests to work together, and being responsible for defining the strategy for how our largest National Forest deals with Climate Change are just the tip of the iceberg of what Greg did in his day-to-day.  In most likelihood, those extreme hunts for Greg were actually a simplification of life for him: a situation where the most logical rules of nature are paramount and where the most basic instinctual conflicts of man-vs-nature and man-vs-himself are played out amongst the most perfect and beautiful of our planet’s natural creation.

Greg died suddenly, unexpectedly, and in his prime.  The one and only grace of his passing is the fact that it happened on a mountainside, in the arms of the beautiful forest he loved, and on one of the most spectacular spring days there ever was in Sitka.  He enjoyed that last day to its fullest  fishing for King Salmon in the morning, gardening, and then a trip up the mountain.

Greg’s unexpected passing left all of us who knew him shocked.  We lost a mentor that we admired, a colleague that inspired us, and a friend that we could always count on.  Greg came to the Tongass and when he left, he left it a better place.  We will always remember him and we will always strive to be as good a person as he was.

Written by:  Andrew Thoms, Bethany Goodrich, Jon Martin, Kitty Labounty; May 30th, 2014

Video and Slideshow by: Bethany Goodrich, Corrine Ferguson, Pat Heur and the great help of Lisa, Su Meredith and all who scanned photos, dug through the archives and even digitized slides to memorialize Greg

Note:  Greg Killinger will be added to the Sitka Conservation Society’s Living Wilderness Celebration Board which honors the people who cherish and protect the wild and natural environment of the Tongass and have a passion for Wilderness.  The above essay will be added to a book that tells the story of the people we honor and forever celebrate their lives and actions.  In this way, we will continue to draw inspiration from Greg and all the others whose lives we celebrate.

Boating home after a successful trip fishing for kings with Steve and Kari Paustian and Bethany Goodrich

Apr 28 2014

2014 Parade of Species

Thanks to everyone who attended the 13th Annual Parade of Species!

The Parade of Species is an annual celebration of Earth Day organized by the Sitka Conservation Society.  Families are invited to dress up as their favorite plant or animal and swim, slither, fly, or trot through town.  Community partners offer games and activities after the parade and donate prizes for “Best Costume” contest winners.

SCS would especially like to thank the following organizations and individuals who donated their time and resources for the activities after the parade:

  • Alaska Department of Fish and Game: Troy Tydingco & Patrick Fowler
  • Park Service: Ryan Carpenter, Christina Neighbors, Kassy Eubank-Littlefield, Anne Lankenau, Andrea Willingham, Jasa Woods & Janet Drake
  • Kayaani Commission: Judi Lehman & Erin Rofkar
  • Forest Service: Marty Becker & Perry Edwards
  • Sitka Tribe of Alaska/Herring Festival: Jessica Gill & Melody Kingsley
  • Sitka Sound Science Center: Madison Kosma, Ashley Bolwerk, Michael Maufbach & Margot O’Connell
  • Kettleson Memorial Library: Tracy Turner
  • Cooperative Extension: Jasmine Shaw
  • Stream Team: Wendy Alderson, Amy Danielson, Nora Stewart, Al Madigan, & Levi Danielson
  • 4H: Mary Wood
  • Fish to Schools: Jess Acker
  • Harry Race: prize tokens to soda fountain
  • Botanika Organic Spa: delicious earth-friendly treats


Apr 17 2014

Karta River: Classroom in the Wilderness

Think back to those boring days during school, when you would tune out the teacher’s voice, stare out the window, and daydream about being outside. Well, if you were a student at Craig High School, no dreaming would be necessary.

Students load up and batten down for the skiff ride to Karta River Wilderness on Prince of Wales Island.

For the past few years, Wilderness Rangers with the Forest Service have been working with classes at Craig High School to develop monitoring projects that get kids out, into the field, doing real research in designated Wilderness Areas.

The curriculum is part of the Marine Biology class and Alaska Natural History class in alternate years. Students design monitoring projects, using data from previous years. Projects include phenology studies of False Hellebore, measuring fork lengths of salmon smolt, testing amphibians for Chytrid fungus, camera trapping large mammals, and any other indicator students plan into a study. Along with the research, the students learn about the management of designated Wilderness areas and work through the process of applying for research permits. The goal is that by the end of the semester, the students will have all of the practical experience needed to conduct professional field research—and hopefully open doors to new careers and develop an appreciation of Wilderness along the way.

Designated in 1990, the Karta is one of the more recent additions to the national Wilderness preservation system.

The defining feature of the Wilderness is the 5-mile long Karta River that drains Karta Lake.

Last year, I had the opportunity to participate in the class through the magic of video-teleconferencing. Stanford PhD candidate Lauren Oakes and I talked to the students about our work and answered questions. This year, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join the class in the field for two consecutive days.

Getting to the Karta Wilderness, like most Wilderness Areas in Southeast, is not an easy task. We drove from Craig to Hollis on the eastern side of Price of Wales Island. There, we met the students at the dock, donned floatcoats, and loaded up in the Forest Service skiff after a safety briefing. The skiff ride to the Karta River takes about 40 minutes.

The crew of students from Craig High School arrives at the beach and prepares to hike into their test plots.

The drainage of a beaver pond adjacent to the river, a popular spot for the students’ study plots.

On the beach, teacher Ashley Hutton gave succinct instructions to the students, “This is your project, you know what to do, you are the researchers, so now it’s up to you.” She also made the valuable point, “We’re in a Wilderness area. If your equipment breaks, that’s just part of doing field research–you’ll just have to roll with it and adjust your project as needed.” With that, the students took off to collect the requisite data, set overnight traps, and explore.

I helped two groups of students, one pair collecting stream quality data (dissolved oxygen, pH, salinity, and macro invertebrate surveys) and one pair testing amphibian populations for the problematic Chytrid fungus. While they conducted their tests, I asked them what they planned to do after highschool. The answers varied: diesel mechanic, fisheries biologist, Armed Forces. Thinking back to myself at that age (vacillating between aspirations to be a college professor or punk-rock drummer depending on the day), I realize that these students will likely change their future plans wildly in coming years. But the experiences they’ve gained from this class—appreciation and understanding of Wilderness, practical and marketable research skills, resiliency when things don’t go quite as planned—will grant them more options, more realistic expectations, and more perspective toward whatever paths their future holds.

Two students collect data on water quality in the Karta River.

Students not only gain experience from hands-on practice, but also by teaming up with professionals. Here, a team of students works with Sarah Brandy, a fisheries biologist with the Forest Service.

The data the students collect will inform real-world research. This student swab a rough skinned newt. The sample will be sent to a lab at Indiana University and will help map the spread of a deadly amphibian disease, Chytrid fungus, across the continent.

The Rough-skinned newt is one of only a handful of amphibians that can survive as far north as Southeast Alaska.

These students had no problem finding newts in the outlet to the beaver pond.

Students check minnow traps set by the previous day’s group to study salmon smolt.

Once the students finished collecting data, they had the opportunity to enjoy the Wilderness setting.

An “unofficial” aquatic vertebrate survey…

The community of Craig, Alaska.


SCS’s involvement in Wilderness stewardship, including the Craig HS class, is made possible thorough a grant from the National Forest Foundation.  Founded by Congress in 1991, the National Forest Foundation works to conserve, restore and enhance America’s 193-million-acre National Forest System.

Apr 14 2014

Rural Advisory Committee Funds Available

The Secure Rural Schools Act (previously referred to as “timber receipts”) has provided approximately $100,000 for a group of volunteer Sitkans (the Sitka Rural Advisory Committee or RAC) to decide how the funds will be spent on the Sitka Ranger District.

Projects proposal may be submitted by federal, state, local, or tribal governments; non-profit organizations, landowners, and even private entities. The projects must benefit the National Forest System. The current round of funding proposals are due by APRIL 30, 2014. Projects ideas are limited only by your imagination, projects may include: road and trail maintenance, buoy and cabin maintenance, ATV trail brushing, wildlife habitat restoration, fish habitat restoration, invasive species management among other much needed projects.

Click here to learn more about the program and how to prepare a proposal.

Community driven projects ensure that the US Forest Service understands the priorities of the community in order to better shape their management activities, as well as influencing the distribution of funds throughout the Sitka Ranger District. For more information or assistance, contact Marjorie Hennessy, Coordinator for the Sitka Collaborative Stewardship Group at or 747-7509.

For more information on the RAC you can attend the meeting of the Sitka Rural Advisory Committee on June 6, 4pm, at the Sitka Ranger District (remember current RAC proposals are due April 30!). Community involvement in public lands management planning is a valuable opportunity for the public to have a say in how our lands are cared for!

Apr 03 2014

Voices of the Tongass – Karen Johnson

SCS had the opportunity to catch up with F/V Cloud Nine this week and we were humbled by these wonderful people. Karen Johnson, long time crew member on the Cloud Nine, was asked what fishing meant to her and this is what she had to say.

“I started fishing when I was 6. There are different kinds of fishermen as there are with any type of job, I suppose. My perception of fishing is I love it – I love the life, I love the ocean, I love the excitement, I love the peacefulness, I love the hard work.I can be seasick, look up, and still be amazed by my surroundings. I can be working hard, dead-tired, and still take in what’s around me.

It’s beautiful out there. It’s part of living here I guess, never getting tired of seeing the amazing things that go on around us every day, even if it’s just a daily morning walk at Totem park. There’s always something to notice.

Our family fished together for a long time and I’m thankful for that and for the fact that my brother and I still get to fish together some. Our bond to the ocean, the coast, the inside passage is very strong and commercial fishing gave us a better opportunity to experience it on a wider scale than some might get. You can think of commercial fishing as a way to make money, as a job, but to some – it is so much more.”

We can’t thank you guys enough for what you do!

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Keep up to date on all of the issues. Check out "The Southeaster" Blog.

  • Hungry for Huckleberry Pie, Venison Stew, or Fresh Greens? Come to the Wild Foods Potluck Nov. 2!
  • Stand Up to Corporate Influence!
  • Kayaking Kootznoowoo: Report on SCS’s Final Wilderness Trip
  • Encouraging Local Natural Resource Stewardship on the Tongass: Kennel Creek
  • Teaching the Alaska way of Life: 4-H in Sitka
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