A few years ago, the U.S. Forest Service was getting ready to open up several large stands of old-growth trees here on Kupreanof Island in an attempt to sustain southeast Alaska's beleaguered timber industry.
The target was up to 70 million board feet of timber. Much of it would be plucked from remote, roadless forests. Even getting to the trees was going to mean building 25 miles of roads at a cost of more than $6 million.
The three tiny sawmills in nearby Kake, where the unemployment rate is 80%, couldn't hope to bid on such a massive and expensive logging operation.
What happened next marked a crucial turnaround for the Forest Service, which traditionally works mainly with large mills in Alaska and has encountered endless lawsuits by environmental groups.
The local Forest Service ranger, Chris Savage, set up meetings with Kake's 500-some residents to ask — they say they had never been asked before — what they wanted to happen in the remaining uncut forests around their village.
Jobs, people said first. Check. A few timber sales small enough that our own mills can bid on them. Check. Stay out of roadless areas so the blacktailed deer we hunt can have a chance to flourish. Check.
The result is a new plan that will cut only 26 million board feet of timber, requiring just 1.8 miles of permanent new roads. Much of the harvest will be offered in "micro-sales" that will almost certainly go to mill owners in Kake. Community residents will be offered contracts to maintain old forest roads, repair culverts and thin newly growing forests to ready them for logging later.