2013 Kalskag Timber Harvest Update
The first load of firewood products from the Kalskag timber harvest site on Kuskokwim Corporation Lands is moving down the Kuskokwim toward the Lower River market as this report is being written.
To recap: The actual timber harvest was conducted in mid-March through late April. During the harvest, which also included packaging 1 cord bundles of round logs and the splitting of a large amount of firewood, 12 people from Chuathbaluk, Upper and Lower Kalskag were employed. Payroll going into those communities was over $50,000 for that short, but intense period. Fuel and other supplies were also purchased locally.
May was a down time for the project waiting for the River to break up and the site to dry up.
In mid-June work resumed focused on packaging all of the chopped firewood into special firewood bags. Additional wood taken from stockpiles was also processed in to split firewood. For this phase of the project our two project managers from Lower Kalskag oversaw 10 teen age youth workers – again all TKC shareholders. There was one youth from Napaimute, one from Georgetown, two from Upper Kalskag, and six from Lower Kalskag. They spent the summer loading 250 – ½ cord bags with split spruce and birch. By mid-August all of the wood was packaged and ready for barge transportation to Bethel. In Bethel we have wood handling equipment and leased land for a wood storage yard. From there the wood will be sold and distributed throughout the Lower Kuskokwim communities.
The first barge load of firewood was loaded at the site on August 24th and 25th. An added bonus is that the barge crews are also entirely from Kalskag and are TKC shareholders as well. It has been a slow freighting season on the River and transporting our firewood products kept the barge crew working when they otherwise would have been laid off.
Only about half of the firewood produced in 2013 will be shipped by barge at this time. This is due to increased shipping costs. We are currently developing a cost-sharing plan with the two Kalskag communities to keep the ice road open and move the remaining wood by truck (River permitting). A reliable, regularly maintained ice road connecting the Middle Kuskokwim to the Lower River has many additional economic and social benefits to our People beyond just the reduced cost of transporting firewood products.
Startup expenses were high for this first year at the new harvest site. Also not being able to get all the pieces in place to start the harvest until mid-March prevented us from getting the volume we were shooting for – 500 cords. We were only able to reach 57% of that goal. Another factor that reduced our volume was the large amount of birch that was harvested that was found to be unusable when we went to process it into split firewood. It was simply too rotten from top to bottom. Our harvester operators now know how to identify and avoid unusable birch. If all of the birch had been usable we would have been at 70% of our 2013 timber harvest goal, which is not bad considering the relatively short time we conducted the actual harvest. Overall it was much easier to conduct this harvest with full time communities nearby. There was a large employment pool to draw from (wish we could have put everyone to work that asked for a job). Employees got to stay at home after work and on weekends. Ordering/receiving parts and supplies was also much easier with multiple daily flights.
We harvested 15 acres in 2013 and even with lower usable volume of wood found Mr. Doig’s estimate of 18-21 cords per acre to be very accurate. This confirmation will be very valuable for planning the time and expense of future harvests.
It’s also important to note that the condition of the timber at the Kalskag harvest site was the same as what we saw with the timber at Napaimute: it is rotten at the butt and falling down.
It is also worth noting that by the time the harvest ended in April there were a total of 7 moose feeding at the site daily. This was predicted by the various foresters we worked with throughout the development of Napaimute’s firewood business – that moose habitat would be improved by harvesting the old growth forest.
Over the course of the summer grass grew quickly over the site and many of the birch stumps we cut we were already sprouting new shoots.
Many River travelers have asked where we are cutting timber below Kalskag having passed the site without even noticing it. That’s because you can’t even tell a major timber harvest has been going on there from the River. Even the dirt barge ramp is barely noticeable.
While the 2013 Season wasn’t as successful as we had hoped for, the plan is to resume the harvest for 2014 as soon as freeze up conditions permit. Our employees will harvest on and off throughout the course of the winter when days are warm enough and daylight is long enough to justify working. With a full winter to use for harvesting we will work at a more leisurely/less expensive pace towards the initial 500 cord per year minimum production goal. With the longer warmer days of March and April, we will assess our volume and step up the harvest for this time period accordingly.
Thank you for this opportunity.