By Loren J (Jody) Ellis
In a town like Tenakee Springs, Alaska, where fewer than 200 people live year round, working together is an important part of keeping the township alive and flourishing. Tenakee Logging Company is a prime example of community inclusion, bringing both jobs and economic growth to the place they call home.
Owner Gordon Chew, his wife Anne Connelly, and their children Sterling and Meryl Chew, not only make their logging business a family affair, they work to include the township while maintaining an ethical and environmentally sound approach to their operation.
Moving to Alaska
The Chews moved to Alaska in 1999, after a 1995 maritime tour of the inside passage left them longing to make it a permanent home. “We spent a wonderful summer up here as a family,” says Gordon Chew. “We explored Southeast Alaska, went fishing and crabbing, and at summer’s end, we were heartsick at the thought of leaving. So we made a plan to return for good.” That plan came to fruition just four years later.
Gordon initially worked as a builder, and as the jobs got bigger, he struggled with the logistics and cost of trying to import lumber for projects from places like Oregon and Washington. “We live in the largest temperate rainforest on the planet,” says Chew. “We started ordering timber from more local mills but were still faced with very high delivery costs. So we bought our own mill, and eventually, we had a steady stream of timber from the forest service, developing our two-acre special-use site in nearby Corner Bay.”
Since then, the company has become a big part of Tenakee Springs and is one of its largest employers. Harvesting and processing approximately 100,000 BF per year, their timber includes Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, Yellow Cedar, and Alder.
Chew focuses on a business model that is dedicated to sustainable logging practices, which means they only do selective cutting. “The forest service will individually mark trees in an NEPA-cleared unit, never marking or cutting more than one third of the trees,” says Chew. “We carefully fall and yard these marked trees without doing undue damage to the ground or to the remaining trees. A beautiful, viable stand of timber is left, which offers a remarkable deer habitat as the brush, berries, and trees all respond quickly to the openings we create in the canopy.”
Mill equipment includes a mobile dimension Model 127 Wood-Mizer LT40 Super Hydraulic, a 1974 Kenworth self-loading log truck fit with an early Crown 3000 loader, and an obsolete Tulsa hydraulic winch for yarding.
“We also have a 32” ramp barge to move our products and a 21-foot Parker launch with a 150 hp Yamaha outboard to tow with,” says Chew. “We are considering building a sailing scow to help with freight costs out of the national forest. We currently load products onto our barge with a rough terrain forklift at a log transfer facility.”
Additionally, the company uses a JD 410 backhoe, a 1988 Ford F-350 dually with a twin boom Holmes wrecker unit, and a rough terrain forklift at a log transfer facility to load products onto their barge.
Products and Projects
Tenakee Logging offers clients rough-sawn, fine-grained old-growth timber as their mainstay, while also producing dimensional lumber, beveled siding, board and batten siding, shakes and shingles, deck packages, fences, boat lumber, and pilings. The company helps support Alaska’s thriving tourist industry by supplying wood to local artists, both native and transplants, including providing instrument wood for native flutes and tone wood. “Our clients include Native carving shops and shipwrights working to rebuild the fishing fleets in places like Haines and Sitka, as well as boat builders, USDA Forest Service, the Department of the Interior National Park Service, and local builders.” Chew says they offer products to tourists who visit the mill site, which sits on two acres of national forest.
The company is also very involved in projects close to home, including a milling and reconstruction job that involved the largest and most historic building in Tenakee Springs.
“We are the only local lumber producers so we have the ability to provide and deliver lumber,” says Chew. “The Snyder Mercantile Building was first built in 1899, and we rebuilt it from the pilings up. Our lumber also helped rebuild the St. Francis Chapel — the town’s only church—as well as many local deck projects, additions, new homes, boats, and barges. While we are not the only ones involved, we do like to think we are rebuilding the infrastructure of our town.”
The construction end of the business is what keeps them the top employer in Tenakee Springs, providing work for local residents. “Providing employment gives people money in their pockets, which helps spread that economic boost around to other local businesses. We have had as many as seven employees at one time, but mainly in the construction department as the logging and milling side has very high workman’s comp costs,” says Chew. “My son and I do the work in partnership and rarely hire any outside help in regard to the logging side of our business.”
With recent debates over a new management plan for the Tongass National Forest, Chew’s focus on sustainable logging practices has become more important to him than ever. “All of our three current contracted timber sales are exclusively old growth,” he says, “but the forest service has a transition policy in place, so our next sale will include a 10 percent young-growth component. We are researching the markets for this timber so we can adapt to the changing policies of the Tongass National Forest, and we are excited to work together with conservationists and the forest service to develop a market for young-growth timber products. This will take some time and experimentation.”
Chew says the biggest issue for him is always about how to best use Alaska’s timber in a sustainable way. “From our perspective, there is no debate about the exportation of clear-cut round logs overseas,” he says. “It is a failed policy that isn’t good for Alaska. While other mills may take exception to it and threaten to close if their export permits are revoked, as a small Alaska mill, Tenakee Logging will do its best to take a leadership role in the transition away from old growth. We have always refused to bid on any clear cutting at all.”
As far as future plans, Chew says they have no plans to grow much larger, as they are just becoming fully self-supporting. “We have no large mills in Southeast Alaska and only two medium-sized mills. The rest of us, more than 30 in all, are small mills,” he says. “We are a long way from big markets so our business plan is to provide as much timber to the Southeast Alaska economy as we can. We’ve kept all our timber in Alaska to date, with the exception of 16 electric guitar bodies ordered out of Iowa.” Chew says they did obtain a permit for a dry kiln, which will help add value to their products, and he plans to eventually purchase a larger excavator.
While Chew strives to deliver a high-quality product to his buyers, he also cares about the economic health of his communities and the future of the forest. “We want to enjoy Southeast Alaska’s temperate rainforest as the unique local asset it is, while keeping the benefits it offers here in Alaska. These are things that are part of our core personal values, and we are happy that we can transcend that into our family business.”
On the Cover
Peterson 5000H chipper is hard at work at a Sutco Contracting site.
Creating a Sustainable Answer in Alaska
Tenakee Logging Company is a prime example of community inclusion, bringing both jobs and economic growth to the place they call home.
Innovation Leads to Success
Chilton Logging defines innovation and provides solutions to market needs.
Workhorse Wood Chipper
Wood residual hauling, general freight, heavy haul, and freight brokering are the mainstays of Sutco Contracting,
New Technology and the War Against Wildfire
Three Ways to Extend the Life of Your Logging Equipment
A few practices to consider that will lengthen the life of your logging equipment or improve its performance.
Pacific Logging Conference Gathers in San Diego
Conference a success and raises $30,000 for Pacific Forest Foundation
Forest Residuals Take to the Air
First air biofuel flight
C Corporations with Qualified Timber Gains Get New, Lower Tax Rate with PATH Act Changes