Foes find common ground in stream restoration plan

Conservation, timber groups work together in creek improvement

Posted: Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The restoration of Hoonah's forests has environmentalists and timber groups working together despite their adversarial history.

Last week, a survey team went out to check on the health of Kennel Creek, a stream south of Hoonah on Chichagof Island that was logged in the 1960s right up to its banks. The team included the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, naturalist Bob Christensen, a U.S. Forest Service hydrologist and others involved in the Hoonah Community Forest Project.

"Kennel Creek seems to be a little healthier than I had anticipated," said Sarah Campen, a SEACC organizer who worked on the project. "But there were also some areas where restoration could take place and would be beneficial."

Ordinarily, large trees stabilize stream banks. And fish rear in the quiet pools created by large woody debris from such trees. Restoration might involve putting some wood back in the stream to help out the fish.

Alaska Natives have long relied on the area for fish and wildlife.

"Restoration is a positive thing," said Wanda Culp, a Hoonah resident who is an Alaska Native. "But when you look at the bigger picture, it's almost like a token effort. We've been screaming since the 1980s for a massive effort to look at the cumulative effects of this logging around us."

"But we've got to start somewhere," she said.

"Anything we can do to restore areas, to try to meet subsistence demands, is critical to this community," said Rich Jennings, Hoonah district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service.

Part of the data collection involved getting input from Hoonah residents at a meeting Thursday, organized by SEACC. Some elders said they'd seen less abundant fish, though they weren't sure it was from the harvest, according to Jennings.

In the last several years, environmental conservation groups and timber advocates have begun to do more than fight each other.

Tongass users meet a few times a year to talk about their vision for the forest at the Tongass Futures Roundtable. Habitat restoration projects have become common ground for groups both pro-habitat and pro-timber, because they can jump-start desirable young-growth trees, as well as food for the deer or rearing spots for salmon.

Just because these groups are learning to listen and collaborate doesn't mean the timber fights are over.

"It's very interesting," Jennings said. "They're willing to cooperate on some things that meet their objectives, but they'll continue to appeal some of the things we do."

SEACC is a co-appellant of the Hoonah-area Iyouktug timber sale, which the Forest Service issued a decision for in May. SEACC says the sale's design could hurt important habitat and that the offered 42 million board-feet are too many, according to Russell Heath, SEACC executive director.

The sale is one that Wes Tyler, owner of Icy Straits Lumber Mill in Hoonah, is depending on.

But this time Tyler and Heath have been talking, and Heath says his goal for timber sales nowadays is "getting them to work for the local mills."

That's new for Tyler, who said he hadn't worked with SEACC before the last couple of years. At the same time, Tyler plans to go in on the SEACC-facilitated Kennel Creek project. If the stream needs restoration, it's likely that Tyler's men will supply much of the labor, since they'll be out there logging anyway.

"It makes a difference," Tyler said, to be able to work with the former adversary. He expected the timber sale would work out.

Getting partners to collaborate on stream restoration isn't just a matter of making nice, according to the Forest Service. Collaboration brings free manpower and expertise that stretch out an agency budget that Congress cut sharply in the last year.

"We have our dwindling funding, but we know there's work that needs to be done out there," Jennings said.

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or e-mail

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