Building an Economy Out of Wood*:
It’s a well know fact along the Kuskokwim that Napaimute has been in the wood business for over a decade. This includes the production of lumber, cabin packages, and firewood.
Napaimute, after all, means the “People of the Trees”. Our leadership has long recognized that Napaimute’s timber resources will be a key component of economic development for the community in particular, and the Middle Kuskokwim, in general. This is formally recognized on pages 48 and 51 of the Napaimute Community Plan (2004) and concrete steps have been taken to fulfill this economic development goal for Napaimute.
In 2008, Napaimute established the first organized firewood business in the region. In the years since, many hundreds of cords of both packaged split wood and round logs have been exported by barge from Napaimute to the Lower River and Coast. This was a sincere effort to provide a more affordable alternative energy source for our neighbors downriver as we all continue to suffer under the skyrocketing costs of heating oil in rural Alaska.
It didn’t take long for Napaimute to realize the true and great demand for firewood in the Lower River and Coast and although we continue to increase production annually, we simply cannot produce enough solely through the harvest of timber on Napaimute’s lands.
In 2010, we began advertising to the People in the other Middle Kuskokwim Villages that we would purchase wood from them. This was an attempt to increase the supply of wood, while at the same time providing a source of good income for the People of the Middle and Upper River.
Our purchase price for wood is based on what it costs us to harvest a cord of wood on Napaimute’s own land. As the price of fuel rises annually, so does the price we offer for the purchase of wood. It does take fuel to harvest wood, no matter how you do it: with heavy equipment, by boat, or snow machine.
Thus as fuel prices increase so must the price of wood, but the burning of wood versus heating oil will always be a substantial savings for the People or we (Napaimute) wouldn’t be in the firewood business. It’s not just about making money. It’s about helping to provide a more affordable heating source to the People of the Lower River and Coast, while at the same time providing economic opportunities for the People in the Middle and Upper River.
Napaimute is the perfect “middleman” for the development of a timber industry along the Kuskokwim. The supply is Upriver. The demand is Downriver. Napaimute lives with a leg in both. We know the Land and the People along the entire River. For convenience we maintain an office in Bethel during part of the winter where we have equipment for handling wood and a place to store it. We also have an established customer base throughout Bethel and the many outlying villages that continues to expand each winter.
Each summer the volume of wood purchased at Napaimute has also grown. In June and July of 2012, fourteen Middle Kuskokwim residents have delivered just over 130 cords of firewood to Napaimute. Some bring just a couple of cords at a time and go home with a few hundred dollars. Other more ambitious loggers have brought large multi-cord rafts that have netted them several thousands.
Upriver People float the wood to Napaimute – just a long day’s float for most of the villages above us. Once they arrive, we pull the logs out, cut, measure, and immediately pay them for the wood. If it’s late we have a nice place for the loggers to stay where they can shower, wash clothes, watch TV, and even get on the Internet before heading home the following day. Often times, we even feed them.
With the potential for long-term contracts to supply high volumes of firewood to the Lower River and Coast, this is a source of wood that we hope to continue to develop. As a consistent, reliable group of loggers is established from the villages above us, Napaimute will work with them to increase their efficiency through improved equipment, more cost effective supply procurement, and transportation assistance.
We look forward to building an economy out of wood with our Middle Kuskokwim neighbors.
Mark Leary and the Napaimute Logging Crew
*The Native Village of Napaimute does not promote the cutting of wood on private land (TKC or Native Allotments). All wood purchased by Napaimute will be drift wood or timber harvested by permit on State land.