Timber group aims to broaden understanding of industry
November 21, 2018
On Nov. 15, 12 community members went on a field trip into the woods, trailing state forester Greg Palmieri, in an effort to learn about a controversial Haines topic: timber resources.
Palmieri, who has worked for the state since moving to Haines in 1995, is the one man responsible for nearly a quarter million acres of land within the Haines State Forest.
The "Day in The Woods" event was organized on short notice over a second cup of coffee between Mud Bay Lumber Company owner Sylvia Heinz and Takshanuk Watershed Council staff scientist Derek Poinsette. Heinz sent an invitation email two weeks in advance to the Haines Borough staff, the borough assembly, the planning commission, Chilkoot Indian Association, Chilkat Indian Village and the press. She said she selected a weekday because she figured the majority of her targeted audience would not want to attend a professional development workshop on a weekend.
"No politicians," Palmieri said as he buckled his seatbelt for the ride up Haines Highway Thursday morning. "I was hoping we would get at least one politician." Palmieri said his interest in having assembly members attend an educational event about forestry is because they make economic decisions associated with the timber resources.
Earlier this year, University of Alaska announced plans to harvest about 13,000 acres of land that it owns throughout the borough though a contract has not been signed. Since then, the borough assembly has been the key communicator with the university by voting on a series of directives for the borough manager to interface with the university.
"I hope that nobody sees our presence of not being there as not thinking it was a great idea," assembly member Heather Lende told the CVN this week. Assembly members Lende, Sean Maidy, Brenda Josephson and Tom Morphet were unable to attend because of work or out of town travel, they said when asked why they didn't attend. Will Prisciandaro and Stephanie Scott were not available for comment.
"I would have absolutely loved to go if it wasn't in the middle of the workday in the middle of the week," Maidy said. "That'd be an entire day of pay."
Of the attendees, there were representatives from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Lynn Canal Conservation, Great Bear Foundation, Alaska Arts Confluence, Haines Economic Development Corporation, as well as interested community members. The group met at Mosquito Lake Community Center on Thursday morning.
Palmieri guided the group through pruning and trimming practices, and compared a clearcut management style on Kelsall Road to selective harvest at 39 Mile Haines Highway.
Leading a caravan of vehicles, Palmieri parked on Kelsall Road, past the Bear Flats, which he said is his favorite view in Haines. Attendees weaved in a single-file line behind Palmieri to get to a clearing in Sitka spruce and Western hemlocks.
While all heads turned upwards, Palmieri explained that a permanent study plot, established in 1982, looks at the way pruning and thinning help promote better quality of saw-log production, and protect against insects and disease. The thinning strategy, implemented in the Haines State Forest in 1993, has increased volume per tree and helps wildlife habitat.
Since the 1,000-plus acre plot was clearcut 45 years ago, all the towering trees are in the same age class and stand about 70 feet tall, Palmieri said.
"I wanted to demonstrate an area of the forest that had a very large treatment of even-age management, so people could get an understanding of regeneration potential," Palmieri told the CVN.
Further down the Haines Highway, Palmieri showed the group a site selectively harvested in 2015 that hosts a visible variation of tree growth. At 39 Mile, Palmieri said there has been both natural regeneration of trees and planting by the forestry department since the completed harvest three years ago.
Despite only planting Sitka spruce for regeneration, Palmieri said an even amount of Western hemlock has also regenerated naturally, which speaks to a healthy natural diversity in the Haines State Forest.
Rich Chapell, Fish and Game biologist, said the field trip informed his work as well as his general knowledge for civic engagement.
"Having Greg show me 'this is what a clearcut looks like after 20 years and this is what it looks like after its been pruned' and having direct observation of the harvest methods that get discussed within my job is valuable," Chapell said. "Especially with everybody talking about the university timber sale, getting out into the forest is the best way to put that into context."
Palmieri said that having a conversation about the forest on site is helpful to understand and contextualize applied management practices, rather than only hearing or reading about them.
"As humans we have better understandings of things if we can see them, touch them, feel them," Palmieri said.
Heinz, who has recently spearheaded the Haines Timber Alliance with the aim to grow the timber industry and increase efficiency and communication between businesses, said she thinks the local industry can help improve economic, social and environmental sustainability in Haines.
"I think why the local timber industry is so inspiring to me is that we have such broad support from both sides of the aisle, businesses, local assembly members and state politicians," Heinz said. According to the Haines Borough comprehensive plan, 92 percent of residents support sawmills, furniture makers, and carvers."We are a town that is often run on divisiveness, and the local timber industry is something that shows 92 percent of support," she said. "That in itself has social value."
Heinz, Poinsette and Palmieri are open to hosting another event, likely in the spring. Palmieri said he's hopeful for a better turn out next time.