Many small trees near the Kenai Spur Highway look healthy because they receive plenty of air and sunlight. However, the taller trees behind and those lurking deep in the forests are not as healthy as the overall picture seems.
"If you look past that green, you see a large amount of dead, infested trees," said Kathryn Thomas, president of ArcTech Services Inc. in Nikiski, a civil construction company with a background in the logging industry.
The problem is the spruce bark beetle, and the destruction it has left behind in the area, Thomas said in a speech this summer to the North Peninsula Chamber of Commerce.
ArcTech currently is helping four North Kenai land owners remove infested trees from the area near the Spur Highway and South Miller Loop. The area consists of five parcels of land made up of about 60 acres.
Property owners now are much more aware of the beetle problem and are trying to deal with it early on, Thomas said. They are giving their land an opportunity for younger trees to grow.
"They chose to have their mature trees removed," she said.
ArcTech also has removed timber from private, commercial and Native lands in the Ninilchik and Anchor Point areas.
Land owners interested in having infested trees removed from their land need to contact Thomas.
She said if her company is contacted, she makes other land owners in the area aware of requests. If all parties are interested, ArcTech will make an agreement and begin tree removal.
In the past, there has been an existing market, she said, but it has been for a better quality log. The company recently has found a market that will except a drier, older tree, now making it possible to get infested trees out of the forest.
When the trees are removed from the property, they are processed on site, where limbs are trimmed off, the wood is graded for market and cut to size.
There are three markets on the peninsula for these trees -- pulp, better pulp and saw logs, Thomas said.
Spruce trees make a good wood pulp fiber chip, she said, but because the wood pulp chip market is a world market, it is hard to compete with others who have a higher volume with lower shipping costs.
"It makes it more difficult to compete at that price," she said.
But at this time, ArcTech is still able to sell the trees in the market.
"The market is bearing the cost of tree removal," she said.
When the market can bear the cost, there is no cost to the land owner for the removal, she said.
However, in the case of a low market, or if the trees are too far gone from infestation, she said the owners would bear the cost if they chose to have the trees removed.
Removal of trees can benefit the area in several ways. Thomas said the infested trees can fall, hindering future tree growth and also make the area prone to wildfires.
"They lay there like fiddle sticks and hamper the growth of the property," she said.
Thomas said the forests would be in better shape if the logging had occurred years ago
"The solution to removing the dead and infested trees is logging," she said.
Though any newly logged area is a vast change, Thomas said it is surprising to see what the area will look like in two to three years when smaller trees have had the needed environment to grow into mature trees.
Also, she said, the equipment used while logging will disturb the soil enough so that new growth is possible.
"It can encourage another growth cycle of other trees," she said.
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