My Turn: Kake: Have your forest and eat it too?

Posted: Monday, June 15, 2009

Whether it's fish, game, serenity or jobs, properly managed forests in Southeast Alaska can provide us what we need on many levels. In communities like Kake, which struggle against high unemployment and a high cost of living, finding ways to use local resources to meet local needs just makes sense. That is exactly what Kake residents and the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council proposed through the Kake Community Alternative to the upcoming Central Kupreanof timer sale.

In January, the Forest Service released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Central Kupreanof sale, near Kake. The document includes three action alternatives. The Forest Service's preferred alternative is a large timber sale designed to meet the agency's purpose and need. Unfortunately, it does not meet Kake's community needs. The Kake Community Alternative meets both agency and community needs.

Residents liked some parts of the Forest Service's project alternatives, especially the forest stewardship opportunities, but many are concerned about negative environmental and economic impacts of more large-scale logging in their area. They depend on the forest for resources other than timber, and see this project as an opportunity to enhance those other resources and uses.

Kake's concerns are nothing new, and it's not just Kake that needs more from its back yard. Last year, similar conversations in Hoonah led to the Hoonah Community Forest Plan, which outlined the areas around Hoonah best suited for conservation, restoration and logging. That plan led to SEACC and the Forest Service's collaborative success restructuring the Iyouktug timber sale to better meet Hoonah's needs.

Hoping to replicate Hoonah's success in Kake, we designed the Kake Community Alternative to emphasize parts of the Forest Service document residents liked, modify portions they didn't like, and add some new ideas to make this project a long-term management plan the community can build on.

The tough times facing Kake residents mean many depend almost as much on subsistence resources now as they did generations ago, before years of industrial logging began around the village. In Kake, there is widespread concern that more large timber sales in the area will further reduce wildlife habitat and deplete fish and wildlife populations.

To address this concern, we expanded on the Forest Service's lead (in Alternative 4 of the DEIS) and limited logging to already roaded areas. Staying out of roadless areas reduces habitat destruction, deer mortality from wolf predation, problems with crossing salmon streams, and costly road maintenance.

The Community Alternative also proposes to scale and schedule the timber sale in a way that allows small locally owned mills in Kake to compete for the trees. Past experience has taught residents that outsider logging operations hire minimal numbers of local residents, for minimal amounts of time. By limiting sales from the Central Kupreanof project to 200,000 board feet per year, the Community Alternative opens the door for Kake's local sawmills to compete for local timber. This creates opportunity to grow a prosperous sustainable forest products industry in Kake by keeping logging and processing jobs in town, and ensuring a long-term supply of timber that meets or exceeds projected demand from Kake's mills.

The Kake Community Alternative also outlines ways the Central Kupreanof project could support subsistence and economic uses of forest products beyond timber. It proposes cultivating forest products like wild berries in gap cuts and mixing thinning by-product and fish waste into fertilizer. The Alternative also outlines forest restoration contracting opportunities including road repair, maintenance and decommissioning, pre-commercial forest thinning, and blocked fish culvert replacement-all of which could be significant local-hire opportunities.

Throughout Southeast Alaska, the forests, fish, wildlife and wild places of the Tongass give us what we need to maintain and expand the independent quality of life we all enjoy as Southeast Alaskans. In Kake, the Forest Service has an opportunity to help the community help itself by putting local people to work using a variety of local forest resources. We appreciate Kake and the Forest Service's help with this project. We hope the Forest Service will incorporate the Kake Community Alternative into its decision and use it as a template for managing national forest lands around Kake. That way, Kake may, forgive me, have its forest and eat it too.

• Sarah Campen is community organizer for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council in Juneau. She was raised in Sitka and on Killisnoo Island outside Angoon.

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