Borough branches out with test plots

Posted: Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Some old seeds have brought new growth to the Kenai Peninsula.

Several test plots were set up by the Kenai Spruce Bark Beetle Mitigation Task Force on Kenai Peninsula Borough land this summer.

With the instruction of forest geneticist John Alden, formally with the U.S. Forest Service Institute of Northern Forestry, and help from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, more than 8,000 non-native trees were planted.

These trees came from 13 different areas worldwide, said Kelly Wolf, director for the Youth Restoration Corps.

Some trees came from Siberia, Scandinavia and Holland before being planted in and around Anchor Point starting in mid-July and ending the first week of August.

The planted trees were mostly larch; Scotch and lodge pole pines were planted as well. None of the trees is native to the area but all are grown in northern latitudes with climates similar to that of the peninsula.

Alden was looking for a place to see if the 20-year-old seeds could work. Some of the seeds were collected in Russia before the Iron Curtain came down, Wolf said. The seeds were put into refrigeration until they were planted in greenhouses in Fairbanks and at Seward High School about six months before they were put in the ground.

"We are fortunate enough to have access to them and participate in the research," said Michael Fastabend, the borough's spruce bark beetle mitigation task force coordinator.

The task force was created by the federal government in order to rehabilitate areas heavily infected with spruce bark beetles.

Through three different appropriations, $10 million has been received by the task force for both hazard-tree reduction and reforestation.

The project was successful with the help of the Alaska Division of Forestry, in cooperation with the Youth Restoration Program and New Frontier Vocational Technical Center.

"This was the largest test plot ever planted in Alaska," Wolf said.

"It is amazing what can be accomplished with the energy level of teens," he said of the teen-agers who helped plant around 4,000 of the trees. "They could move Mount McKinley."

The trees from similar latitudes and climates were put in a partly controlled environment to determine their survival rate, as well as to find their agriculture value, such as their benefit to logging.

Adding to the thousands of research trees planted in and around Anchor Point, another 86,500 native trees were planted on borough parcels. These trees have been planted in areas where dead spruce were harvested because they posed a fire hazard to homes and communities.

There have been 19 fuel reduction sales during this past year. Fuel reduction sales are when fuels, in this case heavy dead spruce, are taken off of the parcels to reduce wildfire hazards by contractors who bid on the fuel. The process is similar to timber sales.

Several more such sales are planned for this month and another 15 throughout the winter. The borough plans to make an estimated $680,000 off sales that have been held since last November. These funds are then used for the reforestation effort.

The harvested areas were replanted with native lutz spruce, Fastabend said. The seeds were collected from the same area as the harvested dead spruce.

The lutz spruce is a cross between a Sitka and a white spruce. The interbreeding occurred naturally during the last 8,000 years.

The reason for testing nonindigenous trees is to find faster-growing trees for private land owners so they can replant where there was beetle kill, Fastabend said.

The test plot trees were planted to identify the best seed source for private use. These trees can be used by private land owners for screening and protection from roads lost because of beetle kill, he said.

There are three replicated research trial sites, each on five acres of land.

"We wanted to see how they responded in different areas," Fastabend said.

The test plot trees are on a monitoring schedule and being researched and measured for the next two decades, he said.

"It is always a concern with non-native," he said about the nonindigenous trees. "They can become invasive and replace."

The Division of Forestry is monitoring the displacing of native species throughout Alaska.

The invasion of nonindigenous plants is a serious threat to natural resources. Effects include interference with the restoration of disturbed sites, decrease in value of animal habitat, replacement or major modification of natural plants and extermination of rare plant species, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Web site. The degree of the impacts varies.

Non-native trees are not new to the area. Over the last 20 years, people have planted larch and different kinds of pine on private land. Forestry watches these trees for survivability and growth to see if they are expanding or limited to where the trees are planted.

The Douglas fir is a good example. Some were planted on the peninsula 40 years ago. However, the climate is not right for viable seeds. They are unable to propagate.

At this point, it is unknown about the seed production of the non-native trees planted in the Anchor Point area, Fastabend said.

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