OPINION: The necessity of the West Susitna Access Road

Mark Miller’s opposition to the West Susitna Road, marked by the narrow viewpoint typical of a lodge owner, fails to see the bigger picture and lacks balance. This road is essential for sustainable forestry and the economic growth of the Mat-Su region.

Papoose Milling is deeply invested in the Mat-Su region, dedicated to long-term, environmentally responsible timber harvesting. Harvesting beetle-kill spruce is crucial for faster forest regeneration. Access to the West Susitna region would enable us to manage forestry sustainably over a larger area, and with our 80- to 100-year regeneration cycle, it could continually and responsibly meet the timber needs of the Mat-Su people indefinitely.

Loggers historically built many of Alaska’s first roads, and we continue this tradition today. The existing winter access road to West Susitna, where I purchased and processed logs, has supported 89 small businesses in Alaska with beetle-kill spruce and birch products. We ship birch firewood and beetle-kill spruce from the Mat-Su region to customers in Seward and Fairbanks and provide birch logs to the Great Alaska Bowl Company. Currently, we are producing birch for ulu knife handles.

The work we undertake significantly benefits other industries, such as housing and agriculture. Our business supplies locally produced materials for houses, cabins, and home furnishings, catering to the increasing demand for affordable housing in Alaska. When we sustainably harvest timber from an area, the land undergoes improvement as it may serve as a site for future forest regeneration, fostering the growth of healthier, fire-resistant trees that offer excellent wildlife habitat or it might evolve into agricultural land where a small farm can produce local food or forage, thus enhancing Alaska’s food security. Our operations have assisted three landowners in Alaska in realizing their dreams of establishing small farms, culminating in approximately 300 acres of new local agriculture.

Without the road, the area will become infested with beetle-kill spruce and be more vulnerable to fire. The few remote lodge owners who oppose the road are desperately spending gobs of money for Outside lobbying firms that are considering only their interests and neglecting fire management. Yet I believe most Alaskans are in favor of constructing this road because it serves the broader public interest and aligns with the desires of a majority of Alaskans.

Critics like Miller fail to recognize the wider benefits of the road, perceiving the idea of more Alaskans gaining access to these public lands as a threat. Roads are fundamental to Alaska’s history and economy, supporting hundreds of small businesses and enabling responsible forest management. Without this road, our ability to manage beetle-kill spruce and support a variety of local businesses would be significantly hindered.

Miller’s stance, likely influenced by his interests as a lodge owner, seems selfish. His reluctance to share the vast resources of Alaska mirrors a child refusing to share a playground’s sandbox with other children, saying, “I don’t wanna share.” I’m advocating for the responsible sharing of resources for everyone’s benefit, not just a privileged few. In conclusion, the West Susitna Road represents a move towards sustainable forestry, economic diversity, and a brighter future for Alaska. It’s time to overcome selfish opposition and embrace a future that ensures prosperity for all Alaskans.


Andrew Traxler is the owner of Papoose Milling, a family-owned business serving the Mat-Su with firewood and lumber services. His family history as American sawyers and loggers dates back to 1850. He is a staunch advocate for sustainable forestry.

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