Major changes are afoot in the country’s largest national forest, the 17-million-acre Tongass in Southeast Alaska. And many of them bode well for fish and wildlife. The most important is arguably the U.S. Forest Service’s move from old-growth logging in roadless areas of the Tongass and its shift toward restoring watersheds that were previously harvested, an effort that Trout Unlimited is actively supporting. Along with habitat restoration, the federal agency is also concentrating on established and emerging industries such as commercial and sport fishing, tourism, alternative energy, and small-scale timber operations.
As the Tongass shifts gears from industrial logging to smaller, more targeted timber sales, several niche lumber mills throughout Southeast Alaska are benefitting. One of them is located in Hoonah, a mostly Tlingit village on Chichagof Island about a half-hour plane ride from Juneau.
Icy Straits Lumber and Milling is a family-owned business that makes specialty lumber products from sustainably harvested Tongass old-growth spruce, hemlock and cedar. It’s owned by a third-generation logger, Wes Tyler, and his wife, Susan, who are originally from Oregon.
The Tylers have lived in Alaska for more than three decades with much of that time spent in remote logging camps where Wes worked as a timber harvester and later as a general manager for Whitestone Logging. For the past several years, the Tylers have operated Icy Straits Lumber and have built a reputation for providing high-quality wood products – everything from log cabin and timber frame packages to decking, paneling, flooring and siding. The Tylers are conservation-minded business owners who support responsible use of the Tongass’ rare and highly prized old-growth timber.
The Tylers fully support the Forest Service's 2010 decision to transition away from large-scale old-growth logging in favor of more sustainable, small-scale timber harvesting, a shift for which Trout Unlimited and other conservation groups have been long advocating. In recent years, the Tylers have worked with one of TU's partners, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, to develop the Hoonah Community Forest Project which aims to secure a sustainable balance between the ecological needs of the Tongass and the values and economic goals of the Hoonah community.
In a profile of Icy Straits Lumber and Milling, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council quoted the Tylers as saying, "In our minds, operating a small mill that contributes to the local economy and striving for the preservation of meaningful wild spaces are not opposing goals. Rather, our investment in our community and the surrounding ecosystem is integral to our business model and we are excited to continue our work."
Read more about new developments for this innovative company in a recently published article.