The Tongass National Forest (TNF) recently awarded a 7.5 million board feet (mmbf) young growth stewardship timber sale from Heceta Island, west of Prince of Wales Island. A commercial thin and an Integrated Resource Timber Contract (IRTC), this is a precedent setting timber sale. It is the first young growth (YG) sale with substantial volume and receipts on the forest. This sale may mark the beginning of the Tongass Transition and the beginning of a new timber industry centered on YG.
There are currently 450,000 acres of YG in the TNF. Approximately 300,000 acres of these previously harvested stands are in the suitable and available timber base, as defined by the Tongass Land Management Plan (TLMP). The remainder is in non-timber development areas, such as riparian areas, beach fringe, roadless areas, non-development Land Use Designations (LUDs), and old growth reserves. Approximately 180,000 acres have been pre-commercially thinned (PCT). Most of the PCT has occurred in Timber Development LUDs.
Timber development young growth stands are managed to support the future timber industry and are subject to culmination of mean annual increment (CMAI) requirements under the National Forest Management Act (NFMA). CMAI is the point at which a young growth stand attains its maximum growth rate and future growth will begin to level off. On the TNF, CMAI can be reached in as little as 70 years on more productive sites, or take more than 100 years on less productive sites. YG stands can only be rotationally harvested (clear cut) after reaching CMAI. YG stands can be commercially thinned or selectively harvested at any time. There are a variety of management scenarios (e.g. even-aged, uneven-aged, long rotation, etc.) and prescriptions for young growth timber management. Each scenario or prescription will produce different types of timber for production of different products.
Many YG stands are managed for values other than timber; like providing for future ecosystem services, such as wildlife habitat, large wood recruitment for streams, and biodiversity. Some of these stands will require thinning to provide the intended services or desired future conditions. There are several types of thinning prescriptions used to achieve the future desired conditions of a stand. Some YG stands do not require any management activities and with time will provide desired services.
A new harvesting and processing industry needs to be created to efficiently utilize YG. Products and markets for YG wood are still being defined. Most of the wood harvested to date has been round log exported. There is some regional processing for round and milled logs for cabins, recreation structures, and craft houses. Plans are underway for Sitka high school students to use regionally harvested and milled YG wood for projects benefitting the community. Biomass could become a significant market for the lower value YG wood.
There are differing opinions on how TNF YG should be managed. The Staney Creek Final Report explains how this group addressed the management of YG for both timber and non-timber products in the Staney area.