ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Native corporations are replanting clear-cuts, testing forestry techniques and funding research to find a more environmentally-friendly way to log in Southeast Alaska.
Sealaska Corp. has invested $5.5 million on thinning, pruning, fertilizing, aerial seeding and hand planting on 19,300 acres, said company forester Ron Wolfe. It has also spent more than $1 million on scientific research on the effects of logging.
The Juneau-based regional corporation, is the biggest logging company in the state. Sealaska became a certified tree farmer in 1998. The certification was awarded by the American Tree Farm System, which describes itself as the nation's oldest sustainable forestry program. The organization's stamp of approval means the landowner is taking steps to protect water quality, fish, wildlife and scenic values.
Klukwan Inc., a village corporation for Klukwan, north of Haines, is also investing in the restoration of its forests on Long Island, a barrier island off Prince of Wales that grew some Alaska's best trees. The corporation has a $5 million settlement trust exclusively for Long Island reforestation, said chief executive Ron Gilbert.
As part of their effort to bring back a healthy crop of timber faster, Sealaska and Klukwan are thinning clear-cuts. Cutters take out less desirable trees once the clear-cuts reach 15 years of age, when the young trees begin to crowd each other out. Thinning increases the diameter of trees by allowing more sunlight to penetrate the stand. And the spaces it creates in the thick regrowth may benefit wildlife.
Thinning also puts shareholders to work.
''It's a renewable resource. And it provides jobs from the beginning to the end, in terms of cutting, thinning and replanting,'' said Richard Carle, a Sealaska Timber Corp. official and chairman of Klawock Heenya, the village corporation for Klawock.
Whether thinning actually benefits wildlife is an open question, according to some biologists. Although thinning creates openings between trees, allowing sunlight to stimulate plant growth on the forest floor, the canopy eventually closes over when the trees get older.
''Precommercial thinning is a short-term fix. The best result is good public relations,'' said state research biologist Matt Kirchhoff, who has published many studies on logging and deer in Southeast.
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