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Ensuring Timber Sales
The challenges for the Alaska Forest Service

Jody Ellis-Knapp

In Alaska, where bureaucracy is still less of an issue than many other places, it seems that timber sales should be an easy endeavor. But for the Alaska Forest Service in Delta Junction, it is an undertaking that requires a lot of time and planning.                                   

Al Edgren and Steve Joslin are both Foresters for the Delta Junction Division of Forestry. Their job includes mapping out which areas should be put up as sales, and which areas should not. Al has been with the state of Alaska Forestry Division since 1981 and with Delta Area Forestry since 1983. Steve has been a Delta Resource Forester since 1985 and has been with the state of Alaska since 1981, having worked in the industry since 1975.

Making it Work for Everyone
Sales go by auction to private industries, with each sale lasting three to five years. Contractors pay roughly $60.00 per thousand board feet, depending on the sale. Prior to the sale, the area is looked over, and value is determined based on considerations such as leaving some of the hard woods and leaf tree protection.                                   

Accessibility is also a concern, because most sales in Alaska tend to be winter only. Al Edgren states that balancing the needs of the industry with resource management has to be a consideration at all times. “We try to balance the future needs of the industry and align our progress with access, sale layout, and the process required to bring a sale forward to completion.” Says Al, “It would be a terrible waste of energy to put in all the effort we do to plan a sale and have it not go through.”

Fire Sale
Wildfires are another issue that must be addressed. After a fire, it is Steve Joslin’s job to determine what might be salvageable. Timber degrades fast after a fire and must be used quickly. White spruce, a big part of the market in this area, loses 20 percent of its economic value once there is a fire, because it has to be moved immediately, or it will deteriorate.                                   

“Wildfires are going to happen,” says Joslin. “Harvesting sometimes becomes a choice of using it or letting it burn.”

Green Groups
Environmental issues are not as pronounced as they might be in other states, although there are some challenges. Joslin states that conflicts with environmentalist groups are very minimal, mainly because the Forestry Division places a large emphasis on natural re-growth.                 

Conservation efforts include no large scale clearcuts, and seed trees being left around the perimeter of a sale to promote re-growth, as well as leaf trees. They also use a scarification process in which moss is scraped from the ground coverage to promote growth. Moss in Alaska provides such heavy coverage that the ground tends to stay cold, and trees will not grow as well.                                   

With processes such as these, they are able to hold another sale and re-harvest within 30 years in some areas.                                   

“The biggest recurring challenge is from people wanting to keep the world “status quo,” with no allowance or provision for the increased needs of the population,” says Joslin. “We strive to help satisfy the needs of a growing population. I see myself as a conservationist as opposed to a preservationist.”