Beetles have infested enough of the trees on land Kenai Natives Association Inc. owns near Robinson Loop that managers think all of the spruce will die within five years.
So KNA has begun a two- to three-year program to harvest the trees before they lose their commercial value, said Michael Slezak, the corporation's chief operating officer.
"We're looking at the best utilization of the assets we have as a corporation and at how to protect those assets," he said. "The logging is more of a protection of those lands, so they can be used for other purposes in the future."
KNA has several development projects in the works, most of which Slezak said he is not yet ready to announce to the public. The proposal for a privately run prison at Wildwood was the first to be aired.
KNA has 450 to 500 shareholders, he said. It employs three people in its Kenai corporate office and three at its Anchorage subsidiary, Denali Gaming Supply.
The corporation owns roughly 21,000 acres north of Robinson Loop Road near Sterling, 3,500 acres by Marathon Road in Kenai and 4,400 acres at Wildwood north of Kenai.
"We hope to address the beetles on all of our property," he said. "The reforestation project is hopefully going to enhance the growth of birch, cottonwood and alder. The beetles are a significant problem."
The corporation's land north of Robinson Loop borders numerous homes and several large camps, he said, and beetle-killed forest poses a significant wildfire hazard.
"All it takes is one good lightning strike, and it's a forest fire out of control," Slezak said. "We don't want fire racing from our land to those homes and camps. You have to take active measures. We live in an area where fire is bad for wildlife that live in the habitat and bad for people that live near it."
KNA has contracted Gates Construction Inc. to do the logging, because Gates is experienced at selective cuts that protect the land. The company also churns the soil to help new seedlings start. Gates will cut beetle-infested spruce six inches or more in diameter, Slezak said. It will leave birch, cottonwood, alder and spruce trees less than six inches in diameter.
Some of the corporation's land already has been cleared and will not be cut. Elsewhere, the logging will meander through the forest.
"It's a selective cut and it's not square blocks," Slezak said. "It follows the growth of the (spruce) trees. There are strong stands of birch and cottonwood."
Wade Wahrenbrock, forest practices forester for the Alaska Division of Forestry in Soldotna, said Gates so far has filed plans to log 4,477 acres in the Robinson Loop area.
He estimated that beetles so far have killed about 5 percent of the spruce trees in the area. Gates can reach some of the land from Swanson River Road and from the existing road to Sunken Island Lake, he said.
"They have about six miles of existing gravel road," he said. "The balance will be accessed in winter using ice roads."
Wahrenbrock said the pace of logging on the Kenai Peninsula has slowed since Circle DE Pacific went out of business. Only a few large operations now are under way.
He said Gates also is logging part of an 8,580-acre tract Cook Inlet Region Inc. owns off Oilwell Road near Ninilchik, a 160-acre tract Ninilchik Native Association owns in the same area and a 378-acre Seldovia Native Association tract by Jakolof Bay on the south shore of Kachemak Bay. Wahrenbrock said beetles have killed all the spruce trees on the CIRI tract.
Arctech Services has been logging two Kenai-area parcels totaling roughly 100 acres, he said. Kenai Resources and Valley Sawmill have been logging two state sales totaling 327 acres near Moose Pass. Roger Covey has been logging 264 acres near Anchor Point.
Numerous smaller operations are under way, but loggers are not required to inform the state of cuts of less than 40 acres.
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