Youth Board Advisor Shares Introspective on Sealaska’s Land Management
In early October 2014, Youth Board Advisor Alyssa London visited Sealaska lands on Prince of Wales Island for the first time with Brian Kleinhenz, Sealaska forester and Natural Resources Department manager. Below is her own account of her ideas and preconceptions before her visit, and how they changed as a result.
My impression of Sealaska’s timber harvesting practices prior to my site visit was abysmal. I did not understand how Sealaska could espouse that they are governed by Native values, but then engage in harvesting of their lands. I misunderstood that the lands are only meant to be preserved, instead of actively used.
WHAT I LEARNED
What shareholders like myself need to understand is the meaning of land stewardship. Sole preservation is not what Sealaska intends for its lands — instead it uses our forested lands as productive entities to create jobs and timber products. Once I understood this, then I could see how we balance our land use practices with our Alaska Native values.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF SEALASKA’S LAND USE IS NEGLIGIBLE
I was skeptical about the impact of land management practices. First I learned that Sealaska only owns 1.3 percent of the total land in Southeast Alaska. This piece of information stood out to me because the percentage is so negligible. I think if shareholders had a better visual understanding of the miniscule size of our land base, then any fears that we are damaging the forest may subside.
Furthermore, when I looked at the diagram that showed the rest of the 98.7 percent, I learned that it is mostly protected National Forest, or owned by the federal government for use at its discretion. The amount of lands that the federal government uses for timber production is comparatively negligible to the amount of protected forestlands.
SEALASKA WORKS TO CREATE A HEALTHY SECOND GROWTH FOREST
I find clear-cutting to be very ugly and depressing looking, and it seems like a misuse of our lands given our company values. Unfortunately, clear-cutting is a fundamental step in the process of farming trees and selling them as timber products, which is what Sealaska does with its lands.
After seeing a clear-cut area that had been taken down a year before our site visit, I still think it is unsightly. But, on the good side, I was taken around to see all of the cedar saplings that had been planted to regenerate the forest. I learned Sealaska does this to help create the next second growth forest to harvest 60 years down the line, which is at a faster rate than if the forest regenerates itself. Without good management, the forest would likely take 100 years or more to regenerate.
Given that Sealaska is a for-profit corporation, I think they are doing the best they can to balance Alaska Native values, and create revenue from our forests. Sealaska makes some money by extracting the natural resources provided on the lands, and does so in a sustainable and environmentally conscious way. With this approach they are staying as close to Alaska Native values as possible with the extraction of this resource, by having sustainable replanting and forest maintenance practices like thinning and protection of natural habitat.