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Forest Service transitions in the Tongass

Posted: September 25, 2012 - 12:01am

Participants say a recent maintenance contract in Kake is a successful example of the collaborative efforts inherent in the U.S. Forest Service transition framework.

Luther Coby of CSC Tree Service, a business located in Kake, won a $26,000 competitive bid for road, culvert and bridge maintenance contract in late August.

The contract was a scaled down revision of the Little John Stewardship contract. Stewardship contracts are mixes of timber sales and maintenance work as part of the Forest Service’s Transition Framework.

Forest Service representatives spent quite a bit of time listening to interested parties in Kake, said Jason Anderson, Petersburg district ranger.

“Keeping the dialogue moving forward,” Anderson said.

The discussions revolved around finding the right size and scale for Kake’s interests for economic development, Anderson said. However, when Anderson transferred to Petersburg in February, he said he started to notice that some of the Little John contract’s timber units and up-front costs seemed too big for Kake’s interests. They may overshoot Kake’s capacity.

“That dialog ultimately revealed some weaknesses in the plan,” Anderson said.

He said one sticking point was a difference in terminology. Where as the Forest Service would consider 100,000- to 1-million-board feet sales as “small scale,” Kake citizens, businesses and “cottage” timber operators consider a small-scale sale to be orders of a magnitude smaller, 10,000- to 30,000-board feet.

“These were subtle, but really important learning moments,” Anderson said.

An announcement describing the Little John contract, released before an official request for proposals, proved Anderson’s sense that the contract outstripped Kake’s capacity and vision for economic development.

“The interest was to see industry response,” Anderson said. “To my knowledge, we didn’t get any response.”

With this new information, Anderson said he was able to tease apart the Little John Stewardship project and make it a maintenance contract to stay consistent with Kake’s environmental models and economic models.

Anderson said a lot of the dialogue to create these models came during meetings of the Kake Community Forest Collaborative. He said the task was to determine how long Kake can make its wood supply last for heating, jobs and habitat.

“All of those thing are woven into a pretty complex tapestry,” Anderson said.

The collaborative revealed an array of public interest, Anderson said. That the group convened and maintained a voice with the Forest Service was really helpful, he said.

Local environmental non-profit Southeast Alaska Conservation Council has worked in Kake for years as part of Kake’s collaborative.

Daven Hafey SEACC community forest organizer said the maintenance contract was the result of a three-year process, which started with the Kake Community Forest Collaborative. The collaborative is an effort to get Kake’s multiple interests to the table and ask big questions.

“What is the status of this community, economically, ecologically, socially," Hafey said. "What are the factors that contribute to these" and how they can be improved.

SEACC and contractor Bob Christensen of Southeast Alaska Wilderness Exploration, Analysis and Discovery, Ranger Jason Anderson and the Organized Village of Kake met to discuss whether the Little John was it the right scale for Kake.

One small miller in Kake, said it prefers yellow cedar and doesn’t work with the spruce and hemlock offered in Little John’s timber component, Anderson said.

“So there was no point in pushing the timber component,” Anderson said

Hafey said he was impressed with the Forest Service’s flexibility.

“Ranger Anderson in Petersburg had a genuinely open ear,” Hafey said. “[Anderson] listened to the folks in Kake to hear what they needed and wanted and what could work for them and went back to the drawing board and retooled the whole thing to work for Kake.”

Though the Forest Service contractor wrote language into the contract to give preference to local bidders, Coby’s bid was competitive and did not need local preference.

“An obvious sign of moving in the right direction,” Hafey said.

Similar collaboration is underway south of Hoonah in the Kennel Creek watershed to improve deer habitat, Hafey said. “A win-win for the watershed and the community.” Also, a SEACC organizer is collaborating on a restoration, thinning, recreation and timber sales project near Wrangell, he said.

Hafey addressed skeptics who might criticize a three-year process resulting in one service contract.

“That's not the case,” Hafey said. “Rather than the end result, the contract awarded locally in Kake is the starting point and an indication of growing collaboration on the Tongass.”

This is laying the foundation for future work, Anderson said. The successes in Kake, Wrangell and Hoonah are all indicators that all of these years are paying off, he said.

Ranger Anderson said the competitive and quality services taxpayers receive in the Kake contract is an example of “the power of keeping an open dialogue.” That the hiring of a Kake business to do local work is “exactly what we wanted to see.”

Anderson said Kake gives a successful model of what small scale, local contracts look like. Artisan crafted work models, he said. However, Anderson said every community is different and every work model is different.

It is about trying to make better use of taxpayer spending for these local communities, Anderson said. Making it better for local communities.

“Big kudos to Kake for sticking it out,” Anderson said.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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