Tongass bellwether: Dargon point timber sale: sustainable young-growth timber industry shows early promise.

Author:Solberg, Dustin

Dargon Point lies on the west coast of Prince of Wales Island at the southernmost tip of Alaska. In recent months, a stand of trees near this isolated rainforest coastline has become a bellwether on the Tongass National Forest.

The US Forest Service first stipulated its plans to develop a young-growth forest industry on the Tongass as far back as twenty-five years ago. But the matter of precisely when the Tongass National Forest should begin its shift away from logging old-growth forests has been a hotly contested question.

So when federal foresters marked out a first-of-its-kind fifty-eight-acre timber sale in a young-growth forest on Dargon Point, it drew more than a little curiosity from timber industry observers.

Most timber watchers seemed to expect little interest from an industry that has remained--unique among the world's softwood-producing regions--dependent on old-growth trees.

If the industry's enthusiasm for the Dargon Point timber sale is any indication, those early doubts appear to have been turned on their head.

"I'm amazed that it attracted the bids that it did," says Forrest Cole, supervisor for the Tongass National Forest. "It definitely shows the promise for second growth."

The 4.5 million board-foot Dargon Point sale sparked an entrepreneurial buzz, drawing four bids instead of the normal one or two.

"We went conservative on the appraisal because we weren't sure how people would value the second growth," says Stan McCoy, the supervisory forester for the Thorne Bay and Craig timber zones.

That incentive appears to have been unnecessary: the high bid of nearly $800,000 came in at 81 percent over appraisal.

'Great quality wood'

Clarence Maxey began working in the woods on Alaska's Afognak Island when he was still a teen. Today he owns Frontier, Inc., the firm that put up the winning bid at Dargon Point. (As of press time, the contract was still under routine review and wasn't officially awarded.) When Maxey first walked the forest at Dargon Point, he liked what he discovered there.

"I was just amazed at the uniformity of the trees, the height; the volume per acre is just amazing. That's a quality stand of timber that just grew back naturally," he says by phone from his office in Idaho. "It probably has five times the volume per acre as what they took off in old-growth back seventy years ago. We're talking maybe 2 percent defect, versus old-growth being closer to 60 to 70 percent defect."

While the strength of the domestic...

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