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KETCHIKAN - The U.S. Forest Service will study the quality of second-growth trees in the Tongass National Forest to prepare for future timber sales.
An estimated 435,000 acres of the Tongass are second-growth, or young-growth, trees. Almost none of it is ready for timber harvest but the Forest Service wants to gather information about the volume and quality of lumber products that might be produced.
"We are trying to get ahead of the curve as we start to transition into young growth," said Jim Russell, silviculture program manager on the Tongass. "We hope to get information decades ahead of it."
As part of the study, the Forest Service will cut 460 trees from nine locations on Prince of Wales Island and Mitkof Island in Southeast Alaska. The agency wants to look at the effects of pre-commercial thinning and thinning on the quality of Sitka spruce and Western hemlock, Russell said.
Roughly 130,000 acres out of the 435,000 acres of second-growth on the Tongass have been thinned. Trees are not removed for immediate financial gain in pre-commercial thinning.
"The more you open a stand up, you concentrate growth on a few individuals," he told the Ketchikan Daily News. "When you pre-commercially thin, it's something like a row of carrots. You pull up some carrots to allow bigger carrots to grow."
Trees in forests that have been thinned generally grow larger. They also tend to have larger limbs and bigger knots, which decreases wood quality, he said.
"It's a balance between opening a stand up and allowing light in and what it does for wood quality," he said.
The study might yield surprises, Russell said. An initial study on Prince of Wales Island showed that wood quality was relatively good, he said.
The tree stands in the study are 40 to 70 years old and were thinned between 1962 and 1985.
The study will engage the Tongass National Forest, the Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis. Russell said the agency hopes to do testing at the Ketchikan Wood Technology Center.
The project is one of several planned on the Tongass dealing with the second growth. Other studies will evaluate effects of second-growth thinning on vegetation, wildlife habitat and diversity.