On a walk through the Kodiak Island Borough’s parcel of land in Chiniak, you can see thousands of burned dead trees, as well as brush and foliage starting to come back after the August 2015 Twin Creeks Fire.
With A-1 Timber Consultants’ Kent Cross, I hiked about two and a half miles on the land Wednesday.
The borough hired a consultant out of Washington to assess the timber, and the resulting report said most of the trees would die.
We entered the property from the Chiniak Highway where the main logging road leaves the highway near Capelin Creek.
The exit point for the logging road has been one of the most hotly contested parts of the timber sale. Some Chiniak residents complained about the location, concerned that the corner did not have visibility and would lead to accidents.
The spot is on the outside of the corner and meets regulations with room to spare. It’s more than adequate now, Cross said, and after certain trees are moved to make way for the road, the logging truck drivers, perched above where most car drivers sit, will have plenty of visibility.
After the first few yards off the road and until we reached a designated wildlife area on the western edge of the property that will remain uncut, I didn’t see any green needles.
In the area we walked, the pine needles were brown and many of the trees had visible fire damage lower down.
Cross cut into the side of a few trees to show me burns under the bark and the dark cambium layer, which provides for the trees’ growth and is pale and slightly sticky when it’s alive and growing.
We passed dozens of trees that appeared burned from the inside out. An open triangle on the front of one tree allowed me to easily see that the tree was hollow, the inside burned out with just the bark left. Further up, the tree was solid, but the first several feet of tree was just a hollow shell.
Cross said trees like this are extremely dangerous, especially when the wind blows, and will be very difficult to cut. He doesn’t know how some of them are still standing.
We passed a number of similar trees that have already fallen. Cross said many of the trees, especially on the south end of the property, have a defect, where a bacteria gets in and weakens the tree. During the fire, the defect was a way for the fire to get in and burn the inside. Those areas will be cut out of the harvested logs before they are sold.
After hiking a little more than halfway down the western edge of the property along the planned logging road, we reached a designated wildlife area of about eight acres.
The difference was immediately obvious. Here, the trees had green pine needles. Here, the salmonberry bushes had leaves.
Because the trees in this area are expected to survive, the area won’t be cut.
The area is surrounded by burned land, and Cross doesn’t know how it escaped the worst of the fire. It’s on the front and top of a ridge near the highest point of the property, and it’s possible that, at the speed the fire was moving, the fire jumped the area.
It’s one of two areas so far designated as wildlife areas.
The other area is 10 to 12 acres on the southeastern corner of the property. There, the trees are significantly burned and will likely die, but they can’t be cut due to the steep topography.
Although these are the only two designated as wildlife areas so far, Cross said there will likely be others found during the process. At least one other area, along Chiniak creek in the southern part of the property, will likely be left uncut because of the topography, and there may be more.
Another area in the southeast corner of the property appears, from satellite imagery, to have some unburned trees. If green, it will remain uncut.
Still some life
After reaching the wildlife area, we cut across roughly the middle of the property, angling north to the southern edge of the property in the area behind King Crab Way before following a planned logging road along the southern to where it joined the main logging road and then main road back to the Chiniak Highway.
The ground showed signs of life throughout. Birds were chirping. Fiddlehead ferns and small salmonberry bushes were making a comeback.
A-1’s contract for the timber harvest doesn’t include replanting the trees. Cross said if the borough plans to replant, it should happen within a year.
Right now, the green foliage is short, but it will grow quickly. Cross said, next summer, it will likely be a little over knee-height, and the year after that, the brush will be too heavy to effectively plant.
The borough assembly has talked about recreational opportunities after logging.
As we hiked, Cross pointed out elevated flat areas that, once cleared, could offer a spot for a campsite or recreational vehicle park with a view over the bay.
He expects that, with roads put in, the area would attract 10 times or more the recreators it currently does. The roads could provide opportunities for ATVs, mountain biking, horseback riding and hiking.
Soon, A-1 will begin building roads and trees will start falling, and the borough has less than a year to decide what to do with the land. A-1’s contract ends in March 2017.
Julie Herrmann is a staff reporter at the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at 486-3227 ext. 627.