Worst Alaskan Fire Season Could Mean Salvage Timber Sales In Future

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The state is considering holding salvage timber sales to get some value out of land scorched this summer in the worst fire season on record.

For example, a portion of the Camp Creek Fire that burned more than 175-thousand acres near the Pogo Mine south of Fairbanks is up for a possible salvage timber sale for commercial use.

The state Division of Forestry also is contemplating opening portions of the 1.4 million acres burned in the Taylor Complex near Tok.

Chris Maisch, regional forester for the state division of forestry, said the state hopes to hold sales before the wood degrades.

The salvage sales would also give the Interior timber industry a much-needed shot in the arm, said Joe Young, owner of Young Timber in Tok. He said the state hasn't opened an area in the Interior for timber in years.

``It's really suffocating the industry,'' he said.

Young said he's been holding off investing $100,000 in another sawmill and has turned down jobs because the timber wasn't available. He's been salvaging timber and helping moose habitat rehabilitation on private land burned in the Tok River Fire in 1990.

Young hopes to negotiate a long-term salvage contract with the state for portions burned this summer just as the supply for the 14-year-old burn is running out. He said the fire-blackened timber is more desirable because it has already been dried.

Green timber shrinks, cracks and twists, forcing builders to compensate for the lumber.

``It's pretty easy to work with them,'' Young said. ``Once the trees are dry, it makes excellent house logs.''

Extracting the burned trees is less restrictive, and therefore costs are lower in the burned out areas because the fires burn the roots and many trees will blow over in the first gust of wind, he said. That has already happened in some areas.

``If you can imagine what 100,000 pickup sticks look like lying on the ground, that's what the forests look like,'' said Al Edgren, a Delta Area forester who is overseeing the proposed salvage of timber burned in the Camp Creek Fire.

About 200 acres of white spruce trees have been identified as potential timber salvage, Edgren said. The salvage could include 400 to 700 acres between Miles 21 and 31 of the road leading to the Pogo Mine. A 4 1/2 mile, 16-foot-wide road would have to be put in to access the proposed salvage sale that is expected to include approximately 4 million board feet of burned timber.

``We will probably leave this open for probably five to seven years just to allow additional harvest,'' Edgren said. ``If, for some reason, there's no interest in the harvest anymore, we'll close it out.''

Land managers are still doing damage assessment in areas the Porcupine Fire burned along the Taylor Highway, the Billy Creek Fire burned north of Dot Lake and the Gardiner Creek Fire burned north of Northway this summer. Parcels of those burns could be up for salvage sales, Maisch said.

The timber will move quickly because insects start to invade the dead trees the following summer, sometimes leaving holes that are as big as pencils, he said.

After the timber is taken for commercial use, some areas could be opened for firewood in year to follow.