The recent decision by Choggiung Limited, the village corporation for Dillingham, Ekuk and Portage Creek, to make certain areas of land around Dillingham off-limits for wood harvesting for non-shareholders created an issue for many Dillingham residents that left them without a way to get enough wood heat their homes this winter. For the past few weeks, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources have been working to find a solution to the recent wood restrictions and last week, proposed a solution that would open up several areas of land around Dillingham that would allow residents to gather and harvest wood without violating the corporation's recently imposed limitations.
The compromise that was reached between the Alaska Division of Mining, Land and Water and the Department of Natural Resources includes a proposition that would allow permit holders to gather wood from state land as long as the timber harvested was dead. Each cord of wood that is harvested from these designated areas of state land will cost approximately $10 per cord and no harvesting will be permitted without a permit. The minimum requirement for the gathering of the deadwood will be at least three cords and the maximum will be of 10 cords per household.
Most of the forested area around Dillingham is already designated as settlement land, which means that the state-owned land will eventually be sold by the Division of Mining, Land and Water to be turned into recreational properties. The Division was clear in their statement regarding the newly opened land that commercial woodcutting will not be permitted on the designated areas.
"In April, some people in the Dillingham area had expressed some concern about wanting a more formal designation of land that would be available for firewood," said Rick Jandreau, an area forester for the Alaska Division of Forestry in Palmer. "The closing of native lands to shareholders was done after we had been made aware of these concerns, so there was already some discussion about the opening of state lands to wood harvesting going on prior to the Alaska Native corporation's decision."
After several months of discussion and meetings, the Division of Forestry began making plans to designate several areas of state land around Dillingham for wood harvesting. While state-owned land is used for a variety of purposes, it was the settlement lands that seemed to be the most profitable solution.
"State land has to be under an area plan, so different parcels are designated for different uses," said Jandreau. "The areas around Dillingham were designated for development. The Department of Land was reluctant at first to allow harvesting because it would decrease the value of the properties that the state hopes to eventually sell, but after we talked it was made clear that the people in Dillingham would just be harvesting dead wood. By getting rid of dead wood, it not only protects the value of the property but it also clears out a lot of dead trees and deadfall and after removing it, might even help increase the value of the property."
The newly opened areas for wood harvesting offers a cheap way for Dillingham residents to collect and stockpile wood for this winter, but in the event that the dead wood is cleared out before the winter is over, the Division of Forestry claims that more wood harvesting areas could be made available if there is an apparent need.
"I certainly hope that there is enough dead wood in these areas to help residents of Dillingham get through the winter, as it's all we have at the moment and we can't make any more," said Jandreau. "We have more state land further out away from Dillingham, and if it comes to that, we could make it available, but we'll just see how it goes this year and watch to see how this compromise develops. If there is still a need for more wood, we will accommodate to those needs. We understand people's need for more firewood, especially during the winters."
According to Mayor Alice Ruby, the city had been hearing concerns about the available wood from the residents of Dillingham. In an attempt to let people voice these concerns and provide them an opportunity to receive some answers, she organized an open house that included voices from the concerned public, the Division of Forestry, the Togiak Wildlife Refuge, and the City of Dillingham. It was through this open house that the maps of the newly designated areas were decided upon and the dead wood compromise was met.
"As the cost of fuel is increasing, the issue of where to gather wood becomes a big one," said Ruby. "When land owners get more restrictive of what wood can be taken, people start to get anxious and I don't blame people for looking for ways to get more wood. Call it part of the unavoidable increasing pressure on natural resources as the cost of living goes up. We wanted to create a place where people could ask their questions and we could work together to get them an answer."
The maps of the newly designated areas for dead wood harvesting have been made available on the City of Dillingham's website, including areas from the Division of Forestry and the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge. Permits for harvesting in the newly designated areas can be bought online at the Alaska Department of Natural Resources website.
This story first appeared in The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is republished here with permission.