Historically, the Tongass National Forest (TNF) has used old growth management and harvest to create economic opportunities in Southeast Alaska. Old growth (OG) timber harvests peaked in the 1970’s and have declined since. The current OG industry utilizes 30 – 40 million board feet (MMBF)/year from the TNF.
The Transition Framework, released in 2010, stated that the Tongass intends to transition out of logging in old growth and roadless areas as quickly as possible. The TNF has also expressed intent to work with existing industry capacity and skills, indicating that OG timber offered will gradually decrease, as the volume of young growth begins to increase to an ecologically sustainable harvest level. The forest products industry will need to change and adapt as the transition evolves.
There are approximately 400,000 acres of OG forest in the TNF’s suitable and available timber base. Sustaining the industry through the transition and managing for a future OG niche industry, will require careful planning and meting out of the timber from this base. Watersheds and projects identified as bridge timber through the Tongass Futures Roundtable Framework Committee work may provide a socially acceptable volume of OG for the transition. The more rapid the Transition to YG, the more OG that will be available for a future niche product industry. Niche products include shakes, trim, door and window sash, music wood, traditional use wood, and other products.
OG harvest is contentious partly because of the loss of other forest functions and services through conversion of these more diverse stands to more homogenous even aged stands with clear cut harvesting. Alternative partial harvest prescriptions have been developed that try to mitigate this loss by retaining some of the OG components.
The Staney Creek Community Forest Report outlines how this collaborative group addressed old growth management and sustaining niche market products on Prince of Wales Island.