Sitka Conservation Society
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.

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 24 2014

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

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

We ambled down the road and through the rain to our first lesson in woodworking. Alaska Specialty Woods (ASW), co-owned by Brent and Annette Cole,  is a major soundboard producer on the island. We pulled into the drive and were immediately welcomed by Annette who was grinning and eager to show us the operation. The place was caked in sawdust. Antlers dangled from the rafters and every available space was jam packed with plates of wood. These soundboards will be mandolins, guitars and other string instruments someday strummed by the hands of established musicians and frustrated hopefuls.

Brent founded ASW in 1995 as a family operated business with a single saw in hand. Annette emphasized the business’ humble and family oriented beginnings.

“The kids were really young and they would go out with backpacks with him [Brent] and pack a wood block, whatever they could handle in their backpack…”

Today, business is booming and the charming bucolic series of wood sheds in the Cole’s yard is being replaced by a shiny new manufacturing facility where processing, drying and storing can all happen under one roof. This advancement is welcomed by Annette and Brent who explained how even minimal exposure to the elements can influence a sound board.

Brent and Annette Cole have been supplying sustainably sourced, high quality sound boards or ‘tone wood’ to string instrument producers since 1995

So what makes a good sound board? Sitka spruce is the glory of sound board wood, which is why Brent’s products are in demand by everyone from big names like Gibson to independent string-instrument crafters across the globe. To demonstrate the quality of this wood for sound production, Annette pinched a ‘½ sound board set’ between her thumb and forefinger and let the wood hang. With her other hand she tapped and flicked the center of the sound board. A beautiful sound reverberated from the wood and a big grin crawled across her face. “Just listen,” she said.

The future of our musicwood industry rests on the careful management of Southeast Alaska’s old-growth rainforest

Straight, slow growing, ancient Sitka spruce with tight uniform rings (and the way the wood is cut) produce the stiff, tough softwood quality necessary for musicwood. The particular trees that meet the stringent requirements necessary to produce high quality sound are not widespread. ASW salvages ‘dead standing’ or ‘dead down’ old-growth spruce for their production. They will search the forest for appropriate trees and apply for the necessary sale with the US Forest Service who then refer to a long-list of requirements before administering the sale. Brent and Annette sometimes even source wood from logs used on abandoned float houses or old logging bridges! This mantra of salvage, reuse and eliminating waste is pivotal to Brent in both his business and personal life.

“All through my life as a young adult and an adult, I have focused on utilization and not letting stuff go to waste- not our resources, not our groceries, not leaving the lights on- as best as I can. As far as the timber acquisitions and how it relates, it goes back to conserving and responsible use. I know this timber resource, though it is renewable the particular materials necessary for producing soundboards is not renewable in that it takes an old-growth habitat to produce what we have for the fine texture…This salvage that we do, is it wasteful if it is part of the environment? I don’t know that it’s a waste. But, I like to see it get used and if it’s used to put groceries on a family’s table then, I think that’s a good thing.”

Brent and Annette are dedicated to the elimination of waste wood. Every usable piece of wood is crafted into a sound board and bits and pieces and scraps are used to build deer calls and even jewelry!

As Brent points out, although wood is technically a ‘renewable’ resource, the types of trees he sources are limited and stewardship and care are required to assure their presence in the long run. One thing is for certain, once an ancient spruce is adopted by the Coles, very little is ‘wasted’. Every possible space on their property is cram packed with boards and the small offcuts are used to make deer calls or even jewelry. One tree in particular is being coveted by ASW and not a single inch of this wood will be unused. When excavating their property to build the new facility, Brent stumbled on an old spruce buried during a landslide, twenty feet under the earth.

“We thought this was waste wood at first. But once exposed to the air, the blonde wood began to change to a brilliant blue gray.” Intrigued, they sent a sample off to be carbon dated. “It’s 2800 years old, plus or minus thirty years” Annette proudly announced. This wood is being processed and soundboards are sold under the ‘Ancient Sitka Line’. The story of this wood reminds us just how astonishingly unique our natural resources are. The rarity, age and significance of our forests gives a story to our lumber that adds unparalleled value to wood products manufactured here in Alaska.

The Ancient Sitka Line of sound boards (on display on left) is crafted from a 2,800 year old Sitka Spruce that was uncovered during excavation on their property. Once unearthed and exposed to the air, the blonde wood turned a brilliant blue gray color with spectacular streaks (detail on right). This tone wood is available for purchase on the ASW website.

“There’s a lot of history recorded in these boards… every one of those growth lines is a year and we aren’t going to use anything less than a 300 year old tree to get a sound board out of.”

Protecting the longevity of the musicwood industry rests on the careful management of old-growth forests in Southeast Alaska. Part of a responsible management scheme will involve maximizing the best use and highest value for the raw material.

“I like to see the resource, the fiber, being used for its best purpose… I wouldn’t take something that could be a sound board and turn it into a floor choice. Now you need good quality timber, but there’s certain criteria that is specific for a soundboard and yea, it would make 2 x 2 for a wall but, it needs to be used for what it’s best value is-where it will do its best for everybody.”

Recognizing the most suitable and valuable use of a given tree or piece of lumber is a critical component to maximizing benefits from our invaluable old-growth forests. Understanding when we can and can not substitute second-growth, or younger timber for wood products is an important piece to a successful industry and a responsible timber program.

Business is booming and Annette and Brent are moving their family business from their humble woodshed to a refurbished facility across the street. Like the lumber ASW utilizes, the original building frame was salvaged and transported from an unused facility on South Prince of Wales.

Brent and Annette were wonderful hosts who taught us a great deal about the careful use of our globally rare wood. We admired the beautiful Ancient Sitka Line a bit longer before Michael herded us back into the truck. We slid beside piles of boards and were careful not to be hooked by a saw.

We left Alaska Specialty Woods and headed for our next stop. There, in the company of an unconventional guide, we would witness raw musicwood being extracted from the rainforest floor. Check back tomorrow to meet Mr. Larry Trumble.

Harvesting Musicwood From the Rainforest: Meet Larry the Logger (3 of 6 part series) —>


Check out the Ancient Sitka Line, visit Alaska Specialty Wood’s website and follow along with ASW on Facebook!

Jan 24 2014

Young-Growth Bike Shelter Installed!

Chris Pearson and his crew from Coastal Excavation pose in the shelter after transporting it to its final home.

Last week, after much anticipation, SCS was able to get the Young Growth bike shelter installed at the Sitka Sound Science Center. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, we encourage you to do so. It’s the product of multiple community partnerships and hard work. This summer SCS produced a video about the bike shelter and it features time lapse footage of the shelter going up and an interview with Randy Hughey, the instructor at Sitka High who designed the shelter along with local craftsman Dan Sheehan.

To celebrate, we will be holding a small dedication celebration on Tuesday, January 28th, at 3:00 PM.  If you are interested in a bike ride, meet up at Totem Square at 2:45 for a quick ride down to the shelter.  We will be thanking people who have helped along the way and have some light refreshments.

We can’t thank all of these great people enough for their help with this project!

National Forest Foundation, CCLS program
Randy Hughey and Dan Sheehan
Sitka Sound Science Center
Chris Pearson and Coastal Excavation
City of Sitka Parks and Recreation
Mike Litman – Precision Boatworks
US Forest Service
Bill Thomason
Mel Cooke
Good Faith Lumber
Keith Landers H & L salvage
S&S Contractors
Baranof Island Brewing Company
SCS members, staff, interns and volunteers

Oct 25 2013

Tongass Building

There are countless reasons to ‘buy local’ ranging from defining and maintaining local character to strengthening the community to stimulating local entrepreneurship and keeping money in the community.  In a community like Sitka that can, more often than not, present a suite of challenges, primarily, a limited capacity to produce certain goods and commodities that other communities have easy access to. Not only are we limited by capacity, we are physically isolated and rely heavily on a barge system to provide us with many of the building blocks of an autonomous economy.

Roof in progress

The solution is simple, build a local economy around the materials you have, wood. As part of the transition framework, the USFS is diverting away from ‘big timber’ and devoted to diversifying forest product economics. This includes a Land Management plan that moves towards small scale, sustainable timber harvesting within roaded, young growth areas. SCS has worked to highlight this transition through community projects that demonstrate young growth and local wood as viable building materials. This shift in Tongass management opens Sitka up to develop a local workforce centered on our assets and ensures that we will capture the economic value of our resources within the local economy. The harvesting, processing and installation of local materials leads to jobs throughout the SE. This type of economy results in not just more jobs, but enhanced social capital in our communities, healthier buildings and the beginning of a robust building supply chain. Local materials means less CO2 emissions tied up in transport and less money leaving our community.

Jamal Floate (left) discussing the project

Today, more and more architects and builders are choosing local, sustainably harvested, produced or recycled materials. Enter Jamal Floate, local entrepreneur, builder and owner of Renaissance Construction. Despite the many challenges faced here in Sitka, he is buying and building local. He constructs projects with energy efficiency in mind and uses local, sustainably harvested wood products. His current project is a private home here in Sitka.  The external and support components consist of wood products sustainably harvested and milled in Wrangell. Floate hopes to use locally harvested and milled Sitka Red Alder from False Island for interior finish work. If he does, the alder can be kilned and processed right here in Sitka by Todd Miller.

Floate is equally committed to energy concerns, not only are the bulk of the construction materials locally and sustainably produced; the house will be highly energy efficient.  That starts with the design and size, the building footprint is only 780 square feet, and the finished square footage will be around 1000 square feet.  Despite the modest foot print, the house will include a great room with vaulted ceilings, a large loft bedroom and master bath,  guest bedroom, second bathroom, kitchen, utility room and covered outdoor deck.  This is due in part to the materials, as well as the building envelope, technology and design techniques. The design incorporates a radiant floor heating system that is more conductive than other types of radiant heat, and will run off of water from the home’s water heater.  The house will also have a zero clearance wood-burning stove, providing exceptional heating capacity and improving indoor air quality.

Floate maintains that this construction model can be replicated in Sitka, and the cost per square foot is no more expensive than traditionally produced homes made with imported building materials. The combination of design and materials will result in a healthier house  and distinct character.  It starts with a paradigm shift, that spaces can be smaller and with more thoughtful design and planning they can be unique and efficient.  This model is linking local businesses and strengthening the community. The possibilities are endless and could result in other opportunities in the retrofitting and renovating sectors of construction as well.

View across the soon to be kitchen and great room

Jul 24 2013

Video: A Walk with Natasha Paremski

Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) is the largest species of Spruce and takes its name from our community; Sitka, Alaska.  Sitka spruce is prized worldwide for a high strength-to-weight ratio and unique characteristics.  Its uses have ranged from seagoing canoes to ceremonial masks to housing structures for the Native communities of Southeast Alaska. In the more recent past it was used to manufacture a multitude of items such as ladders, building frames, paddles and windmill slats.  Its light weight, combined with strength, that makes it so versatile have also made it the gold standard in the construction of instruments and wooden airplanes. Its resiliency and feathery weight led to it being used for wing structures and the fuselage of early airplanes.  Sitka spruce also possesses a highly uniform fiber structure, leading to high quality sound resonance. This means it is sought out for use as sound boards in high end pianos, guitars and other instruments.

The rich and diverse history of the Sitka spruce is so important to remember.  It wasn’t long ago that vast stands were liquidated and entire watersheds became massive clear-cut wastelands.  The trees were ground into industrial dissolving pulp and exported to foreign markets as a commodity product.  That was the past.  Earlier this month, USDA Secretary Vilsack outlined the future: he reaffirmed his commitment to conserving the remaining old growth temperate rainforests on the Tongass National Forest.  He stated that this will be accomplished with a transition out of old growth and to the harvesting of second growth timber.  Old growth will only be used for small scale, specialty value-added uses— like musical instruments.  With a renewed focus on creating a sustainable forest industry, and providing jobs and opportunities in Southeast Alaska, the plight of the Sitka spruce may well be coming full circle.

Enter the Sitka Summer Music Festival, currently in its 42nd year. The Festival now supports events in Anchorage and Fairbanks, but Sitka is where it began and is the home of the festival.  World renowned classical musicians trek to Sitka every summer for the festival with their cellos and violins, adding to the forest’s own beautiful repertoire of sounds.  The festival’s location in Sitka, in the heart of the Tongass National Forest, also allows musicians to connect with the original source of their craft and instruments. One of this summer’s featured musicians is pianist Natasha Paremski who plays in Sitka on Steinway pianos that feature a Sitka Spruce soundboard.  Natasha took time out of her trip to visit with SCS media intern Gleb Mikhalev and describes her connections to Sitka and the forest.

Link to the video:

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