Forest & Natural Resource Projects
Rural Wood Products and Native Plant Business Marketing
Firewood Enterprise ~ The Kuskokwim Native Association (KNA), the sub-regional village non-profit corporation in Aniak, wants to develop a firewood enterprise to purchase logs from stakeholders in the area. These logs would then be turned into firewood and sold to residents. Preliminary results indicate an annual market between 4,000 and 11,000 cords. Some land-use issues still need to be resolved. CES natural resource economist Lee Elder completed a market analysis of a firewood enterprise for the lower Kuskokwim River. A business feasibility study of the project will be completed in 2007.
Plastic/Wood Composites ~ Plastic/wood composite manufacturers from Outside usually meet local demands, yet large volumes of insect-killed trees decay on the Kenai Peninsula and in the Cooper River Valley. The first step to determine the feasibility of local production involves finding out the amount of wood composites purchased in Alaska.
Alaska Native Plants ~ The market for locally grown plants has blossomed well beyond the backyard over the last two decades, mostly because architects and designers call for native plants in large projects or renovations, such as the Z.J. Loussac Public Library, Seward SeaLife Center and the Millennium Alaskan Hotel. Trouble is, local commercial growers can’t predict demand from season to season and often end up with hundreds of plants without buyers. Architects and designers compound the problem because they are unaware that a local market exists. To help solve this problem, the RDP distributed the Alaska Native Plants Commercial Demand Survey to Anchorage-based landscape architects and landscapers. Responses revealed a strong demand for the following native plant varieties:
- Trees – birch, white spruce, larch, mountain ash and crabapple.
- Shrubs – red twig dogwood, dwarf birch, silverberry, serviceberry and high-bush cranberry.
- Herbaceous plants – goat’s beard, wild geranium, arctic lupine, blue flag and monkshood.
- Ferns – lady, wood, ostrich and fragile.
A statewide spruce bark beetle infestation has affected approximately 4 million acres in Alaska, especially in the Copper River Valley. This area has 19 unincorporated communities with a population of approximately 3,000 people. But federal guidelines prohibit distributing federal money to areas without city governments. So the CRV can’t receive grants for federal wildfire education, and volunteers staff local fire departments. That’s when RDP set up area workshops and updated area maps dated from1954. Heidi Veach, RDP forestry program assistant based in Glennallen, works with agencies and local residents on wildfire education projects.
Non-Timber Forest Products
A year after the 2004 wildfires in interior Alaska, wild, edible, morel mushrooms flourished throughout the more than 6.7 million scorched acres — ripe for commercial harvesting. However, few locals knew how to harvest the delicacies, let alone market them at a profit. So the Alaska Cooperative Extension Service and the USDA Forest Service, Boreal Ecology Cooperative Research Unit set out in summer 2005 to better understand the social and economic aspects of a morel harvest. Fieldwork centered on Tok — the morel harvest hub. During June and July, researchers encountered several mushroom buyers, pickers from Alaska and out-of-state and local residents.
Because of its remoteness, Alaska is not likely to become an annual site of large-scale commercial mushroom harvests. To operate here, out-of-state buyers have to endure additional logistical challenges and shipping costs. Backcountry access is difficult and living expenses are also higher. With plenty of morels sprouting after recent fires in the Lower 48, pickers and buyers have little incentive to travel to Alaska. Plus, planning for any potential profits for realtors, property owners and service providers associated with mushroom harvesting is irregular and difficult. Locals can benefit with the knowledge and resources, Alaskans can organize their own small-scale harvesting, processing and marketing of morels.
Many rural residents depend on petroleum for heating and do not necessarily know about alternatives. To change that fact, the RDP designed an easy-to-access and use wood energy website, www.alaskawoodheating.com/. The site ties together many different aspects of wood, including topics such as the available types of wood by area, the energy content of multiple fuels, a heating cost calculator, a directory of Alaska boiler and wood stove sellers, wood harvesting safety and many more wood energy aspects. The Project also plans a mass mailing to inform rural residents about this valuable resource.
Craig Biomass Project
Several years ago the Craig city administrator Jon Bolling was looking to convert fuel sources from propane to diesel.
About three years into the project, Karen Peterson, RDP program assistant based in Thorne Bay, heard about Fuels for Schools at a biomass conference in Colorado and enlightened city officials about the program.
Bolling called in the Alaska Energy Authority which green-lighted the idea and suggested a visit to a similar project in Darby, Mont. in 2005. The trip convinced Bolling, Petersen and other city officials, who next sought sources to finance a CHIPTEC gasifer to heat a series of school buildings and a swimming pool.
The $1.4 million system will output approximately 4 million BTU. The piped hot water will heat the pool water, the pool building and the elementary and middle school buildings, with propane and fuel-oil systems maintained for backup and supplemental heat. The gasifer will burn about 750 tons of wood waste at $30 per ton or $22,500 per year, compared to heating the swimming pool alone with propane at over $60,000.
The annual savings of $40,000 to $60,000 based on two pickup truckloads of wood chips a day to run the plant impressed, Senator Lisa Murkowski and U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey, when they visited the proposed site. Construction bids are underway and the heating system should be online by the 2007 school year.
Growing Native Plants and Vegetable Gardens
Federal agencies are required to use native plants to re-vegetate disturbed federal lands. Finding a source of those plants is difficult. Some Alaska Natives want to grow culturally important wild plants in their yards. Many Alaska gardeners want to garden with plants native to Alaska. Julie roller, Sitka based RDP field technician, worked to identify the best methods to grow ten species of native plants. Ten fact sheets on propagating native plants are available in the publications section.