Students at Sitka High School are building furniture that’s truly Alaska grown. The wood in their furniture projects has come from red alder trees harvested in young-growth forest in the Tongass National Forest.
“It is exciting to bring local wood back into the classroom,” says Sitka High School construction tech instructor Randy Hughey. “It has been a great opportunity for the students to learn about the local resources available and how using them can support our local economy.”
Young-growth lumber is an increasingly available resource in Southeast Alaska, and a new guide published by the Sitka Conservation Society profiles a variety of projects – including two at the Sitka High School – that are testing the limits of how young-growth can be used.
“Alaskan Grown: A Guide to Tongass Young Growth Timber and its Uses,” is a practical tool for builders, woodworkers, consumers, and others interested in learning more about the quality of Tongass young-growth timber and how it can be used. The guide, published with support from the National Forest Foundation, explores the common species of young growth on the Tongass and profiles projects throughout the region that use young growth in a variety of ways.
Projects featured in the guide include:
● Furniture built by Sitka High School students from young-growth red alder harvested and processed in the Sitka Ranger District. The purpose of the project was to experiment with local young-growth and build knowledge about its properties. “This carpentry project is a great model for demonstrating new ways to use Tongass young-growth, while supporting local businesses and youth education,” says Andrew Thoms, executive director of the Sitka Conservation Society.
● A bike shelter that will be built by Sitka High School students for the Sitka Sound Science Center this spring. The shelter will be constructed with young-growth Sitka spruce and old-growth red cedar and yellow-cedar, all harvested from Prince of Wales Island. “The wood [young-growth spruce] cuts easily and makes beautiful boards,” observes Mel Cooke, who owns the Last Chance Enterprises sawmill in Goose Creek. “I could see it being used for almost any kind of building material.”
● The Bosworth home in Gustavus, a private cabin constructed with young-growth spruce and Western hemlock from Prince of Wales Island. “We have been cutting and milling second growth here on P.O.W. for a few seasons now,” says Bill Thomason, a small-mill owner who provided the wood and built the cabin. “It is great wood for a number of purposes, particularly in the construction of log and timber cabins as we are now doing. We are really encouraged by the start of its use here in Southeast Alaska.”
● The Starrigavan public-use cabin on the Sitka Ranger District, which is constructed of young-growth Sitka spruce and Western hemlock logs. “It is a good, tight building that is stabilized and weathering nicely. You come to the conclusion that if you want young-growth spruce or hemlock logs, they work great. It’s a beautiful cabin,” says Dr. Allen Brackley, Director of the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station in Sitka, who has studied young-growth timber and monitored the Starrigavan cabin since its construction in 2008.
“There are a lot of opportunities for using young-growth timber from the Tongass, but consumers and others need to understand what those are, and why it’s important to buy locally when possible,” said Sitka contractor Marcel LaPerriere, who owns Southeast Cedar Homes and uses Tongass wood. “I believe this is an opportunity to raise awareness and increase the commercial use of local young-growth around the region.”