$10 million forest lab receives funding

U.S. Forest Service building to support Tongass research

Posted: Sunday, November 15, 2009

A new science research lab in Juneau received funding this month when President Obama signed a bill that includes $5 million for the U.S. Forest Service project.

The $10 million lab will be designed for Juneau Forestry Sciences Laboratory researchers and staff who study fish, water, soil and vegetation for the U.S. Forest Service. Much of the research involves climate change and its impacts on Alaska's natural resources.

The new lab will support specific laboratory work, said Bov Eav, director of the Pacific Northwest Research Station. The station is the regional office of the Forest Service's research branch.

"Right now, a lab is located at the rental facility that's not built for a laboratory," Eav said. "So that's why it's important to move into a space built for their research purpose."

The lab will make projects such as growing fungus and counting tree rings easier, said Dr. Paul Hennon, a research pathologist studying tree disease.

A staff of about 20, including six scientists, worked in a building on Sherwood Lane for the past 16 years, and before that was set up at the Federal Building downtown. Neither location was designed to be a research laboratory.

They moved this week to the old NOAA building in Auke Bay. The plan is to remain there until the new lab is finished in 2013.

The project received funding this year to begin planning and design, said Sandy Boyce, Alaska Science Coordinator with the Pacific Northwest Research Station. The remaining $5 million is expected from the federal government next year, he said.

Seven acres were set aside between the University of Alaska Southeast's main campus and student housing for the 15,000-square-foot building.

In addition to supporting science, the lab is hoped to help foster relationships between the Forest Service and the college community, Boyce said, by providing part-time work for students and a place for faculty to work closely with researchers.

It also will be the headquarters for the Héen Latinee Experimental Forest, established by the Forest Service in June, and house the Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center director's office. The center is a joint venture among the Forest Service, UAS and four additional agencies set up to study rain forest ecosystems.

The Tongass is the largest temperate rain forest in the world.

Talk of building a new Forest Service lab in Juneau began as far back as 1958, Boyce said. Requests for funding through the agency's competitive capital projects process were turned down for decades. The project was even considered by the state Legislature, but supporters couldn't drum up enough votes.

Forest Service research labs in Alaska include a small one in Sitka that studies the economics of timber production, one in Anchorage for forest inventory and analysis and a location in Fairbanks where scientists study the Interior's boreal forests.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.

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