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.
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.
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 ofAlaska 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!
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!
SCS had the opportunity to sit down with Harvey Kitka and talk about what living with the land means to him. Listening to him tell stories of his family, harvesting, and respect for the land and animals was absolutely mesmerizing.
"My family has been here for countless generations. My grandfather was Coho, and my grandmother was Kaagwaantaan, so I'm Kaagwaantaan. I carry stories from my grandfather and father.
Everything from the ground up we have respect for. A lot of native art has eyes on it and the reason they did that is because everything had something living in it. It showed our respect for the living. Everything has a purpose from what we are told. The trees when we cut those down there was a ceremony for that. We figured when we were hunting and had good fortune, the animals gave themselves to us and we thanked them for it. So we always thank the salmon and things.
We hope this hasn't changed. We try to teach our kids. We tell them everything is about respect. My grandfather always said you never make fun of your food. You don't play with your food. It's about respect. It is one of the things you pass onto your kids. Some of our earliest stories go back to this.
Food is our life. You take what's there, you take care of it, and it will take care of you. That's our whole philosophy."
Thank you for everything you do, Harvey!
Sitka is alive with activity! The herring have returned to our waters to spawn. Fish, fishermen, whales, birds and sea lions are crowding our oceans and coasts and the streets are starting to smell fishy.
Check out this little video SCS helped produce with Ben Hamilton that showcases our deliciously fresh fisheries-from stream to plate!
Meghan joins us this week on Voices of the Tongass, to share a story from when she was a little girl on the southern tip of Baranof Island. Meghan feels lucky to have grown up all over Southeast Alaska. To hear her story, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.
Meghan and her dog, Barnacle, this winter break. Photo by Berett WilberLWL_MEGHAN_GARRISON
This week on Voices of the Tongass we get to hear from Ellen, Spencer, and their cats. To hear their story, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.
Ellen and Spencer are working on a canning project...for their cats. Here they are with Poncho, one of the lucky felines. Photo by Berett Wilber