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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Tenakee Logging Company

By Owen Graham


July 22, 2015
Wednesday PM

Recently the Ketchikan Daily News & other sources printed an interesting article about a small logging and milling company in Tenakee Springs. Interesting because although the feel-good article rightly acknowledged the company’s hard work and entrepreneurial efforts, it also skipped over some important issues.

The article indicated that the logging company selects the individual trees it wants and the Forest Service then prepares and offers the timber for sale. All these trees are purportedly harvested “sustainably…from existing roads”. However, there is a limited number of existing roads in the forest and it doesn’t take long to liquidate all the better trees that can be reached from the roadside. This practice is not “sustainable”.

The article mentions that young-growth trees replace the selectively harvested trees; it doesn’t mention that the trees growing in the understory of a forest grow very slowly. Hemlock trees are more shade tolerant than spruce or cedar, so the spruce and cedar trees that are selectively cut will mostly be replaced with hemlock. Certainly there can be an initial flush of spruce or cedar seedlings along with the hemlock, but as time goes by, the hemlocks will dominate and crowd out the other trees. That’s why the existing old-growth forest is dominated by hemlock trees.

The article mentions that “Some of the older trees they harvest are already starting to die, and removing them opens up light for the seedlings”. That is correct, but in a select cut, the openings tend to close in very quickly and then the growth rate slows down, even for the shade tolerant trees. The article also includes a statement that “There’s nothing good about clear cuts, as far as the environment goes.” I disagree and the Forest Service has also explained the many environmental benefits of clear cuts as a method of regenerating a forest after harvesting including warming the soils which increases grow rates; the increased sunlight enables the spruce trees to compete with hemlock trees; clearcutting minimizes the spread of insects and disease to the young-growth and clearcutting minimizes the blowdown that is common in select cuts. The Forest Service summarized the benefits of clear cutting by stating “A forest meets many needs while it is growing to maturity: wildlife food and shelter, watershed cover, recreation, aesthetics, to name a few. And when the forests are mature, harvesting some of them by clearcutting will start the cycle all over again. This managed and supervised harvest follows nature’s methods of renewing a forest.”

Lastly, the article mentioned the problem the Tenakee mill has dealing with all the various kinds of lumber that they make. This is a common problem with many small, isolated mills and it is why the region needs a fully integrated manufacturing industry that can utilize all the various species, sizes and grades of timber that grow in the forest. In order to have a manufacturing industry, we also need an economy of scale that will enable investments in equipment and allow lower cost operations for both the larger and smaller mills. The larger economy of scale will also enable the industry to continue constructing new access roads for the benefit of both small and large mills.

Owen Graham
Executive Director
Alaska Forest Association
Ketchikan, Alaska


About: Owen is a professional forester with more than 40 years of forestry experience.

Received July 21, 2015 - Published July 22, 2015

Related Article:

Tenakee Logging Company By Mary Catharine Martin | CAPITAL CITY WEEKLY - For Gordon Chew of Tenakee Logging Company Management, everything is connected. - Click here to read the full article...


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