The Sitka Conservation Society has been awarded a grant to partner with local organizations to build capacity for the use of Tongass young growth timber, and to create a long-term strategic plan for watershed restoration in the Sitka Community Use Area. The grant is awarded through the Community Capacity and Land Stewardship Program, a collaborative program of the National Forest Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The two-phase project will build momentum of the Sitka Collaborative Stewardship Group by partnering with local high schools and community members. With the $20,000 grant, the project will last throughout 2012 and will result in a collaboratively defined Strategic Restoration Priorities List, a Best Management Practices document on partnering with the U.S. Forest Service on restoration projects, and initial efforts to advocate for the highest priority projects.
"The project will combine ecological data with social and economic priorities to create a framework that prioritizes where we need to restore salmon and deer habitat," Said Scott Harris, SCS Collaborative Restoration Projects Coordinator. "It will also find ways to maximize local benefits to create jobs for local contractors to perform the work needed on the Tongass National Forest, as best for the community as a whole."
SCS will partner with Sitka High School (SHS) on the young growth component of the project. Industrial arts students will build furniture and a visitor's kiosk for Sitka Sound Science Center with young growth timber harvested and milled on Prince of Wales Island. These projects will take place during the 2012-2013 school year and will be the first time local wood has been used in SHS industrial arts projects in nearly a decade.
"It is exciting to bring local wood back into the classroom. There will be some differences in using young growth than what we usually build with, so it should be a good experiment to see the best ways to use the wood," said Sitka High School industrial arts teacher, Randy Hughey. "It will also be a great opportunity for the students to learn about the local resources available and how they can support the Sitka economy."
Based on the experiences at Sitka High, SCS will develop a best practices guide for buying local wood. The guide will compare the cost of local young growth to imported wood, will detail where and when local wood can be purchased, and will explain properties of local young growth that may be different from conventional lumber. SCS and SHS will host two educational open houses during the 2012-13 school year for local builders and other community members on the best practices.
Bill Thomason, owner of Alaska Wood Cuts Mill, will sell SCS young growth spruce from a stockpile of timber he acquired under stewardship contract during a 2007 habitat restoration project on Prince of Wales Island.
"We have been cutting and milling second growth here on POW for a few seasons now. It is great wood for a number of purposes, particularly in the construction of log and timber cabins as we are now doing," he said. "We are really encouraged by the start of its use here in Southeast Alaska."
"There are a lot of opportunities for using young growth timber from the Tongass, and I hope this experience will not be a one-time thing at the high school," said Sitka contractor Marcel LaPerriere, owner of Southeast Cedar Homes, which uses wood from local sources. "I believe this is an opportunity to raise awareness and increase the commercial use around the region."
The second component of the grant will focus on strategic planning for collaborative watershed restoration projects on the Tongass. In recent years, the U.S. Forest Service, Sitka Conservation Society, Trout Unlimited and other partners have worked together to restore salmon streams damaged by industrial logging practices decades ago. Despite the work and successful partnerships, projects have proceeded without a community-derived strategic plan.
"There are important watersheds in the Sitka Ranger District that were heavily impacted by logging during the pulp mill days. We know that this has had a negative impact on the number of fish these watersheds produce," Matt Lawrie, a 2nd generation Sitka salmon troller said. "I'm hopeful that this project will bring together agency staff, fishermen, and locals with knowledge about local watersheds and it will lead to more habitat restoration projects that will increase Coho numbers and create more stability and resiliency for salmon populations."