Sustainably Harvesting Firewood and Enhancing Habitat

Sustainably Harvesting Firewood
Enhancing Wildlife Habitat
Glen Holt, Eastern Alaska Forester
University of Alaska Fairbanks
The purpose of this presentation is to introduce the topic of:
“sustainably cutting additional fire wood for heating;
firewood, boiler wood, etc., near native Alaskan villages to replace the
expensive fuel oil and enhance wildlife habitat.”
My name is Glen Holt. I previously worked for State Forestry in Alaska 22–years.
I lived 5-years near the Alaska bush community Skwentna in winter at my home along
the Iditarod trail. I used to gather firewood in locations we personally selected
off state forest lands where it was allowed. We paid the state a
personal use stumpage fee for fire wood by the cord or saw logs by the thousand.
It was a fair and reasonable system.
Sometimes we cut wood for extra income for one of several lodges there.
The lodges paid for the permit and we got paid for filling their wood shed.
We didn’t have any problems cutting wood, taking too much from the forest
or infringing on another families woodlot. In terms of the forest, wildlife
habitat, berry patches and future wood supply, our efforts seemed
There was plenty of room for everyone given the amount of wood we cut.
Woodlots were hidden by the seeming vastness of the resource
and we left a lot of trees. Families heating only with wood used about 7 to 15
cords depending on house, cabin or shop size and what was needed.
In a small community with lots of timber and few families –
wood supply seems to be no problem.
Due to the increasing cost of fuel oil for heating, many rural
Alaskan communities are turning back to cutting firewood
from the forest - to heat not only their homes but also
community offices, senior centers, laundry facilities etc.
Fuel oil prices increased from about $1.00/gallon in 1999
to more than $4.00/gallon today in roadside towns & cities.
Transporting this fuel to the bush went up at the same rate or
more - fuel expended to get it to the bush communities.
Transporting fuel oil to bush communities throughout Alaska
occurs by ocean & river barge, river boats and by all sorts of
aircraft and snow machines from cities or larger villages.
The cost of fuel oil + transportation is getting higher,
$8.00 to $10.00/gallon in some bush Alaska locations.
Many Alaskans are going back to firewood and other forms of wood biomass,
including pellet stoves and chip boilers because those heat sources are cheaper - even
including transportation.
It is well known from test studies conducted in various bush and roadside
communities including the Tanana, Tok and Delta community school buildings and
Tanana washeteria that transitioning from fuel oil heat to wood heat saves those
communities significant money they can use elsewhere – such as better education.
Imagine a bush village that has 60 households with each
household housing 4 people. This = 240 people in the village.
• With homes, shops etc. . Lets say each household uses 7 cords of cut
forest wood each year X 60 households = 420 cords/year from the forest.
• Lets say a forest inventory done by the Tanana Chiefs Conference to
determine the average timber volume of the forest near this village and
the inventory indicates approximately 15-cords of wood/acre there.
• Meeting the home heating wood use from the forest around the village
seems to be no problem. Cutting is spread out, there is plenty of wood.
• The Village decided to replace fuel oil with a cordwood boiler at the school
(35-cords/year), the store (15-cords/year), the post office (10-cords/year,
the community center (20-cords/year) and the washeteria (15-cords per
year). This is an additional projected 95 cords/year that would be cut
from the forest around the village. Total = 95 + 420 = 515 cords.
You can do your own wood use projection similar to this example.
This village estimates using 515 cords/year. With an estimated average
of 15 cords/acre determined by the local forest inventory we can
project that this harvest accounts for 34 acres/year equivalent of wood
volume being harvested from around the village - if it were clear cut.
Most area woodlots aren’t harvested as a clear-cut.
But what does partial harvesting look like?
Is partial harvesting good for the long term sustainability of the forest?
I was selective when I cut wood in “my” woodlot. I chose the easiest,
straightest, best splitting, easy handling trees along my pre-set snow machine
trails. What I did at that time wasn’t exactly good forestry.
The trees I left were gnarly-old or suppressed individuals - I probably should
have taken - to make room for the more healthy trees – which I cut.
How long does it take to regrow trees in the forest to the same size
they were when they were cut for firewood or logs?
Lets take a look at some of the commonly found timber in mainland
Alaska. This could help you decide how the forest will grow back.
White Spruce, commercially the most important tree in Interior Alaska.
Evergreen with needles ½ to ¾” long growing on all sides of a hairless twig.
Cones are nearly stalk-less, hang down, cylindrical, 1 ¼ to 2 ½” long.
Shade tolerant grows slow beneath an over story of taller birch, aspen, and poplar
that shade the growing white spruce on the forest floor. Growth often increases
when the over story is removed or dies out from old age.
Grows best on well drained soils and gentle south-facing slopes and sandy soils
along lakes and rivers. It grows tallest in large rivers bottoms with thawed soil.
Limited by fire, spruce beetle, rot, wind & flooding.
White spruce grows back well after harvesting where mineral soil is exposed and
an adequate seed supply is left after the cut. Partial harvesting works well with
white spruce as they can take being shaded.
A 16” diameter white spruce could take 80 to 120 years to regrow on a good site.
- Alaska Trees and Shrubs: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Ag. Handbook No. 410 Viereck & Little Jr. pp. 51.
White Spruce
White Spruce
Black Spruce
Short branched with short needles 1/4” to 5/8” long.
Twigs slender, hairy, covered with very short reddish brown hairs.
Scaly bark.
Cones are small and short, egg-shaped - nearly round, 5/8” to 1 1/4”
curved downward on short stalks.
Usually less than 30 feet tall and 6 inches.
A resinous evergreen tree associated with cold wet flats, muskegs, northfacing slopes, silt soil valley terraces, lake margins and other poorly
drained cold soil sites of low productivity in the spruce-birch interior
forests up to 2,500 feet (lower at higher latitudes).
Used for poles, spruce roots, firewood.
Takes a long time to grow back to a useful size. (100 + years).
- Alaska Trees and Shrubs: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Ag. Handbook No. 410 Viereck & Little Jr. pp. 51.
Black Spruce
Alaska Birch
Deciduous hardwood with papery bark: that is white, greyish or yellowish white.
Dark green to yellowish green leaves up to 3” long and 2” wide, leaf margins are
coarsely toothed and oval to wedge shaped.
Grows best on warm, well drained soils - less vigorously, on cold north slopes and
poorly drained lowlands in a mixture with white or black spruce.
Birch is a shade intolerant relatively short-lived tree – up to about 80 years old
productively. It rapidly declines when over-topped by white spruce. Declines with
trunk rot fungus, snow & wind damage, frost cracks and often after partial
Used for firewood, lumber, chips, bark products, syrup etc. and wildlife browse.
After logging it regenerates best following mechanical scarification exposing
mineral soil to seed in areas large enough to overcome moose browsing.
Birch seedlings need full sunlight to grow and reach maturity.
Seed tree or clear cuts with pockets of residual birch create conditions for birch
regeneration if the site is also well scarified to expose mineral soil and lots of
grass hasn’t already taken over the understory.
- Alaska Trees and Shrubs: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Ag. Handbook No. 410 Viereck & Little Jr. pp. 51
Alaska Birch
A small birch clear-cut.
A seed tree cut leaving some birch & spruce for seed.
A logged birch forest needs site preparation
that exposes mineral soil for
birch seed germination & birch forest regeneration.
The next forest is critical to your future generation’s way of life.
What other problems might a new forest encounter? Over browsing?
How could this problem be solved to ensure adequate regeneration for the future?
Quaking Aspen *
• Leaves nearly round with slender flattened petioles 1 to 2 ½”, hairless,
shiny green above, pale beneath; they tremble in the slightest breeze.
• Bark smooth almost from stump up, thin, whitish or greenish gray with
black knots and often scarred by old moose browsing.
• Very shade intolerant needs full sunlight. Relatively short lived.
• Regenerates best after clear-cut harvesting that opens the forest floor to
full sunlight. Declines and dies in shade. Comes back from root sprouts.
• Logging best done with minimum site disturbance in winter. A stand with
10% aspen may be expected to approach 100% stocking after winter
harvest. Often grows in pure stands but also with birch and white spruce
which will eventually overtop aspen as it declines.
• Limited by small shaded cutting units & moose browse.
• Matures in 60 to 80 years of age after which it declines rapidly.
- Alaska Trees and Shrubs: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Ag. Handbook No. 410 Viereck & Little Jr. pp. 51
Quaking Aspen
Aspen grows best after clear-cutting
larger cuts in full sunlight with minimum browsing.
Balsam Poplar *
Leaves are broadly lance shaped - shiny dark green above and pale green or
brown beneath: petioles from leaf to branch are finely hairy. Leaves on some
saplings can be huge on saplings.
Winter buds are large, long, pointed, and sticky with shiny brown scales.
Bark gray, smooth becoming rough, thick and deeply furrowed.
Sweet smelling in spring with abundant cottony seeds in June & July.
Grows fast in full sunlight on well drained alluvial river bottoms and uplands
associated with small water courses.
Regenerates well from root sprouts after clear cutting. Grows similar to but
much larger than aspen.
Shade intolerant and short lived compared to spruce.
Declines as the stand matures, replaced by white spruce.
Lives 60 to 120 years old or more but generally gets rot older than 100 years.
- Alaska Trees and Shrubs: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Ag. Handbook No. 410 Viereck & Little Jr. pp. 51
Balsam Poplar
Balsam poplar/Cottonwood
• Our fastest growing tree in Alaska.
• On good river bottom sites produces more
“wood” by volume than any other Alaskan
• Fair timber for lumber and cabin logs and good
wood for firewood boilers - chip boilers.
• Excellent for wildlife browse.
• Regenerates quickly after cutting by stump and
root sprouts.
• If you have it – manage for it.
(Larix laricina)
Needles fall off in fall.
Needles turn gold in fall.
Soft, blue green color.
Needles grow tufted.
On raised leaf (needle) scars.
Stout twigs.
Small cones.
Grows in wet cold soils.
Slow growing.
Low volume per acre.
Rot resistant wood.
Won’t out compete white spruce on uplands.
Willow *
(Salix sp.)
More than 35 species of willow in Alaska. Medicinal, baskets, chairs etc.
Management large diameter willow in big stands for firewood or chip boilers.
Regrows very well after clear-cutting in winter. Needs full sunlight.
Valuable as habitat browse for moose, hare, ptarmigan, lynx, beavers etc. Over
browsing will limit the size of your willow but provides excellent habitat.
• Shade intolerant. Grows back profusely from stump sprouts after cutting.
How and where harvesting occurs is important
to the future of the forest and the people that
depend on it for their subsistence.
The Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) awarded renewable
energy grant funding for 8 communities last year.
• Resource assessment work was contracted to TCC Forestry.
• For Koyukuk, Nulato, Kaltag, Anvik, Holy Cross, Hughes, Ruby, and Nikolai.
• Koyukuk, Anvik, Hughes and Kobuk were selected for “Design & Construct”
which also includes a harvest plan for the biomass around each.
• A Harvest Plan
• Includes:
-How much
-How (methods, equipment)
-By who (who will cut the timber)
What does a harvest plan look like?
Or This????
What about maintaining “room” for the other important
resources on the landscape: trap lines, berry patches,
subsistence hunting and fishing camps etc.
• Considered the current situation:
Often the village and organizations involved envision harvesting for
the new community system to be accommodated by simply
expanding the current harvesting already in place.
But, will an increase in unmanaged timber harvesting lead to:
High-grading? Where only the weak, poorly formed and flawed trees remain.
Resource depletion or Environmental damage? (Wildlife/fish habitat, water)
Lack of accountability to Regional or Village tribal plans, goals or strategy?
Neighboring landowners?
Federal and state resource regulations?
The scale and size of expanded harvesting projects should be considered. Maybe some
are small enough to be absorbed with no net negative effect that affects the resource
or present and future lifestyle of the people in the area…
It is apparent with the proposed projects there is no “one size fits all”.
Each proposal has different timber sizes, types and resources affected.
• The Kobuk proposal (TCC example)
1. On the Kobuk River in NW Alaska in the NANA Region.
2. Wood supply in 2 general areas – 5,000 acres flood plain
spruce and spruce stands along the Bornite Road.
3. Proposed harvesting small patches in spruce stands along
the Bornite Rd. Leave stands along the river for PU.
4. Prescribed summer harvest, transport, skidding
w/tractors and transport by small trucks.
5. Estimated Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) of 700 cords/yr
from the floodplain sites.
6. Estimated AAC of 95 cords/yr in the Bornite Rd. area.
Floodplain spruce stands along the Kobuk River near Kobuk
Spruce stands along the Bornite Road near Kobuk
Floodplain stands near the village of Kobuk
Upland stands along the Bornite Road out of Kobuk
Is there other woody biomass that might work well for
cordwood boilers heating community buildings?
Foresters from TCC put plots in this over mature willow stand near Anvik.
• The willow stand was found to average 25 cords/acre.
• They had an average diameter (breast high) of 4.4”.
• Average heights were estimated at 40 to 50 feet tall.
This could make excellent boiler wood and cutting it would regenerate this
willow from stump sprouts for future wood and provide moose browse now.
-Forest management planning
-Timber sale layout and contract assistance
-Forest Practices Regulation compliance
-Logging system consultation
-Reforestation planning
• Glen Holt: Eastern Alaska Field Forester with the
UAF – CES working in Eastern Alaska, Fairbanks, Tok,
Delta, Glennallen etc. 474-5261 [email protected]
• Will Putman, forestry director
Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC)
[email protected]
(907) 452-8251 extension 3373

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