Sitka Conservation Society
Jan 09 2014

Tongass Red Alder

Sam Scotchmer and Pete Weiland during installation of the red alder at Odess Theater.

In 2010 USFS announced the Tongass Transition Framework, a plan to move away from the large scale timber industry and enhance economic opportunities in Southeast Alaska through stewardship and sustainable young growth timber harvesting. In the spring of 2013 SCS was awarded a Community Capacity and Land Stewardship (CCLS) Grant from the National Forest Foundation. The CCLS grant focuses on the use of local, young growth wood and habitat restoration. SCS used this grant to build on its established young growth utilization program. Through this current grant, SCS continued to promote regional young growth markets, incentivize forest restoration and further the Transition Framework by creating a vocational opportunity for local craftsmen that focuses on young growth timber and exploring applications.

Weiland installing the locally harvested and milled red alder.

In the fall of 2013 the project was in full swing and focused on red alder. Red alder has been historically considered a ‘weed species’, however due to its abundance and growth rates, it is quickly becoming valued for use in specialty wood products, cabinetry, furniture and architectural millwork such as wainscoting or molding. SCS and the Sitka Fine Arts Camp (SFAC) partnered along with a local miller and harvester Todd Miller and carpenters Pete Weiland and Sam Scotchmer. Miller harvested and processed red alder from False Island while Scotchmer, working as Weiland’s apprentice, incorporated the final product into the Odess Theater renovation project at Sheldon Jackson Campus’ Allen Hall. The result is an import substitution project featuring red alder that was locally harvested, locally dried and milled, and locally applied by skilled craftsmen.

Red alder as part of the overall, volunteer driven, renovation project.

You can find this red alder in the form of a beautiful wainscoting surrounding the entire of the Odess Theater. The wainscoting serves as a demonstration, highlighting the beauty and versatility of red alder. The red alder in the Odess joins other wood products that were locally harvested from Icy Strait or reclaimed from buildings on site. This project represents a piece of the larger community driven effort to restore and improve the community assets on the Sheldon Jackson Campus. Hundreds of volunteers have worked on this and other projects. For more information on red alder and this project, download our briefing sheet:

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

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

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