More than two dozen people packed the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly chambers for the assembly’s work session last night. The main draw was arguably a presentation by Robert Deal, a research forester and ecosystem services team leader for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.
The assembly asked for Deal to present his thoughts on potential forest management, or logging, of Kodiak’s Sitka spruce stands. The prospect of logging the borough’s 800 acres of forested land in Chiniak was brought up by A-1 Timber, who approached the assembly about the matter this past fall. A-1 Timber is the company currently logging Leisnoi’s privately-owned land in Chiniak.
Deal emphasized that much of his experience and expertise is specific to Southeast Alaska, but said the borough needs to ultimately consider its objectives and priorities when it comes to potential logging.
“If your, really your focus is try and maximize economic return, then probably even-aged management using some sort of clear cutting type is probably what you want to do. Or if you want to just preserve the forest and leave it as is, that is another option as well. But what I’m suggesting is there are some things in between those two.”
Those include selection cutting or cutting in gaps and clumps, among other things.
“The one thing I’d say is looking at these forests here, they’re beautiful forests but they’re fairly uniform. In other words if you want to maintain some structural diversity and get more plant diversity and abundance then some light management would make sense.”
Deal had the opportunity fly over current logging operations in Chiniak, as well as forests that remain in that area, and even flew over logging operations on Afognak Island. In addition to that, he took ground tours of specific areas in the Chiniak area. He said a couple things stood out to him, like the fact that the trees here were bigger than expected and there weren’t very many new trees coming in. “Particularly I saw some on Afognak and other areas where you saw, instead of being this uniformly generated stand you found some spots where there was grass or delayed regeneration occurring.”
He said that’s not the case in Southeast Alaska, where trees grow back in large numbers after harvests or naturally caused disturbances. Deal attributed part of Kodiak’s slow growth to the fact that the island’s forests are relatively new, and there aren’t a lot of downed trees to serve as nursery logs for new seedlings, and there’s a thick layer of moss in most forests here that could inhibit growth.
Ultimately, Deal said he felt relatively confident that any trees cut down in Kodiak would grow back – he just wasn’t sure how long it would take.
“Spruce came here for a reason. It wasn’t always spruce here. It was grass at one time. So obviously the trees do really well at colonizing. You may have some delays in regeneration let’s say. If you do some partial cutting you may want to plant trees in the areas you cut over, you know, even with partial cuts. But I would be highly skeptical if it would just convert to a shrub field or a salmonberry packet. I just am skeptical of that. Spruce is a very tough tree.”
Assemblywoman Carol Austerman said Deal’s presentation was meant simply as information gathering and educational material for the assembly, and not to provide insight on Leisnoi’s current logging operations in Chiniak. Many folks had public comments and questions about Leisnoi’s practices, but few were addressed during the work session.
Assemblyman Mel Stephens said he wasn’t exactly sure why the presentation was made and didn’t think logging the borough’s land in Chiniak should still be on the table after the meeting the assembly had with A-1 Timber back in October, when residents showed up in mass numbers to object the idea of logging the borough’s 800 acres.
“I do not think the borough should be getting into the logging industry and therefore while I found this a useful presentation I don’t think it should play a part in further discussions because I don’t think there should be any further discussions of logging borough land.”
Assemblyman Aaron Griffin had different sentiments on the matter, not necessarily pro logging, but rather he felt that the assembly needs to gather as much information about as many different sources as possible before deciding what to do with its land.
“We did not make a decision in what to do with borough lands. And in fact I think we have an obligation to take a very hard look at the natural resources that the borough owns and help alleviate the tax burden that is on every single person that owns property in the borough. And I know that’s not necessarily popular with people who want to leave every bit of partial land that we can find virgin and untouched.”
During the work session the assembly did make tentative plans to hear from various other groups on the topic of logging, specifically representatives from Leisnoi and the newly formed Kodiak Conservation Society. Those presentations are scheduled for work sessions in July.