Robert Deal

Robert Deal told the Borough Assembly about light forest management on Thursday. Photo by Pete Mladineo

The Kodiak Island Borough Assembly got a crash course on “light management” of forests on borough-owned lands in Chiniak on Thursday.

Robert L. Deal, research forester and ecosystem services team leader with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, gave the assembly work session a presentation about various forest management methods for Sitka spruce forests, which characterizes the 800 acres that the borough owns in Chiniak.

“If your focus is to try to maximize economic return, then probably even-age management using some sort of a clear-cutting type is probably what you want to do. Or if you want to just preserve the forests and leave them as is, that’s another option as well. But what I’m suggesting is that there are some things in between those two,” he said.

The borough has in the past discussed ways to possibly utilize its Chiniak landholdings for revenue.

The hotly contested issue — spawning from the ongoing clear-cut logging program by Leisnoi, the Native corporation working on adjacent Chiniak lands — drew an audience on the both sides of the issue.

The purpose of the presentation was informational for the assembly members and Deal explained partial tree harvests as opposed to even-age management, or clear-cutting trees.

Deal did not recommend a particular solution to the body, but suggested the Kodiak borough formulate its land-use objectives before deciding on a timber harvest method.

“Before you do anything, I think foresters and people that manage forests can be very flexible. If you understand your objectives and your priorities that would help your future forest managers,” he said.

Deal added that partial-cutting alternatives included section-cutting using uniform treatments for gaps and clumps as well as strip thinning.

“If you want to maintain some structural diversity and get some more plant diversity in abundance then some light management would make some sense,” said Deal.

“Light management” implies a partial-cutting approach.

Opponents against the clear-cutting operations of the Native corporation Leisnoi on the property adjoining the borough-owned land have been vocal, and attended the work session.

Judi Kidder, who owns shares in a manageable forestry partnership in New Zealand, complained of the slow regrowth process, and suggested a different way for the borough to make money on its lands: selling firewood.

“One of the things that we have a lack of here in Kodiak is available firewood and perhaps a revenue stream for the borough would be to sell firewood permits to cut individual trees one at a time which would minimize the impact on the forest while achieving the goal of opening up some of that canopy for a healthy forest. It’s about sustainable practices. It’s low impact. It would benefit the borough. It would benefit the citizens and it wouldn’t harm wildlife like a forestry program would,” she said.

The assembly for the most part was cautious in its handling of the discussion.

Borough Mayor Jerrol Friend emphasized the informational nature of the meeting. “We don’t want to get into any heavy discussion. We’re just after information,” he said.

Assembly Member Carol Austerman noted that the borough had not formed any position on land-use in Chiniak nor was in any haste to develop one.

“Were not in any big hurry to make any kind of a quick decision,” she said.

Assembly Member Mel Stephens logged his stance against harvesting the timber, citing that the monies brought into borough coffers — around $2,000,000 or less by his estimates — were not substantial enough to consider the harvest in the first place.

“The amount of money that we’re going to get from ‘managing those resources’ is very, very modest and is not going to relieve anybody of their tax burden by doing that,” he said.

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