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The state of wood manufacturing in Alaska
by Larry Jackson


April 13, 2005

Mr. Graham and Association, your response to my letter is a sad commentary on the state of wood manufacturing in Alaska. For some reason "we" Alaska and it diverse land owners, can "keep pacific rim flitch customers in wood while our sawn flitches from mills is at all time low" your words. Why can we support another region's manufacturing base and not our own? I suspect it is because we are addicted to cheap federal timber and we have inefficient manufacturing. In 1999 the state of Alaska custom districts recorded 546 million bdft harvested while 427 million was exported round. I think the problem isn't only timber supply it is an inadequate, inefficient and un-intigrated secondary and tertiary manufacturing. An antidote to illustrate this. I recently called Viking lumber to try and order several thousand bdft of lumber. The secretary asked me how I would get it to Ketchikan? I was dumbfounded, I asked her to put it on a flat like the rest of the industry and truck it to the barge. They have only shipped barge loads of rough sawn lumber out of the state. By the way they never could give me a price and didn't seem to want my business.

The reason mental health, native lands, and other inholdings can't supply a sustained supply is because they make no pretense on managing on a sustained volume bases. The reason local saw mills make no attempt at buying mental health or private sales is that they can get the logs cheaper from federal lands. The reason I am advocating for the stop of round log export is because those are volumes that could sustain the current secondary market while more infrastructure is developed.

Relying on one source for your supply of logs is ill advised. In a recent project I worked on, I received rough dimensional product from, private, salvage and federal timber, 5 saw mills, 2 kilns, and the material was run through my molder.

As for the return on the timber from the current mental health sale I can make this observation. Currently I average $2500/thousand on my finished products. Given a volume of 10 million bdft with that $2500/1000 value those logs would return 25 million. Given my current maximum capacity of 100000 bdft/yr based on the capacity of the kiln the logs would have kept me operating for 100 years. Of course I have been in business for 1 year, so I neither have the markets or the capital to bid on such a sale. For the most part the mental health volume will not be factored into the secondary manufacturing here in Alaska and it should be.

As for the tired argument of the forest rotting away under the mis-management of the feds I offer this thought. I will trade anyone an acre of second growth for an acre of old growth. Of all of the land owners in the state the feds at least manage the forest on a biologically sustained premise.

To conclude I re-iterate that the industry must upgrade to become more efficient, utilize all aspects of the tree, maximize the value out of all volumes, use less volume, from multiple land holdings, diversify its product lines, integrate across the manufacturing facilities and stop round log export. We must advocate for timber off of federal lands in conjunction with mental health, university and private lands while trying to put capital into modernizing the manufacturing, employing more people per thousand and keeping the money in the state. The mantra of not enough logs, we can't log that way, it cost to much, they won't let us, the sky is falling, the environmentalist are the problem, begs the question; Are we as Alaskan's not smart enough? Do we not have the capital? Do we want an integrated industry? If you want to see some of the products that can be produced here you can visit the Millard /Bergeron building on Stedman, the siding, floor and trim were manufactured here. You and any of the members are cordially invited to visit my operation in Ward Cove any time.


Larry Jackson
Tongass Forest Enterprises
Ketchikan, AK - USA


Related Viewpoint:

letter Response to Squandered Inheritance by Owen J. Graham - Ketchikan, AK - USA



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