Sitka Foresters Volunteer Professional Skills

Category: Local News
Created on Wednesday, 08 July 2020 16:09

By ARIADNE WILL

Sentinel Staff Writer

From creating brochures on how to gather firewood on National Forest lands to nurturing rare trees, the Sitka chapter of the Society of American Foresters has been busy with both old – really old – and new trees.

Pat Heuer is the chair of the Sitka chapter, which is comprised of six professional foresters.

SAF “keeps you up to date on your profession (and) allows you to learn things from other foresters in other parts of the country,” Heuer said in an interview.

Other members of the Sitka chapter of the organization are Gregg Dunn, Perry Edwards, Carol Goularte, TJ Witherspoon, and Allen Brackley. They meet monthly and take a break in the summer, Heuer said.

Among other endeavors, the group watches over and keeps a record of Sitka’s dawn redwood trees.

The species was found in fossil evidence in 1941 and was believed to be extinct until 1944, when living specimens were found growing in China. After seeds were brought to the United States, scientists distributed them widely to see how they would thrive in different climates. The late Fred Geeslin, a career Bureau of Indian Affairs official, was in charge of the federal facilities on Japonski Island at the time, and volunteered to plant a few in Sitka. One survived.

The local Society of American Foresters members have been watching over that tree from the beginning, and have planted six seedlings propagated from it at locations around town. Three are still living, bringing the number of living dawn redwoods in Sitka to four.

“Every year or two we take a look at them,” Heuer said.

The Sentinel interviewed Heuer as he was checking up on the dawn redwood located outside SEARHC’s long-term care facility, formerly Sitka Communty Hospital.

“I always look at them when I’m in the area,” Heuer said. “But since we haven’t measured them since 2001, I thought maybe it was time to remeasure.”

He said this tree has grown only 16 feet in 20 years, but said its diameter has increased from 4.5 inches in 2001 to 16.4 inches in mid-June.

SAF also focuses on promoting good forestry practices in the Sitka area.

The Sitka chapter recently published a brochure about firewood that can be collected on public lands around Sitka. It’s available at the U.S. Forest Service office at 2108 Halibut Point Road.

The brochure tells how to identify trees by their bark, and how different species rate as heating fuel.

Perry Edwards, the U.S. Forest Service Sitka District Ranger and a SAF member, said the brochure is, in part, a response to frequently asked questions.

“One of the common questions is what kind (of wood) is what,” he said. “So we have some pictures to help people identify it.”

Pat Heuer measures the dawn redwood in front of the Sitka Long-Term Care facility recently. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson) 

The brochure also tackles questions of drying and measurement.

“Come September, we start getting cooler nights and people start going out looking for firewood,” Edwards said. “That’s next year’s firewood. That’s not this year’s firewood.”

Edwards said burning wood that hasn’t been properly dried and conditioned can lead to chimney fires. 

Heuer hopes the brochure will help people decide whether they even want to use wood as a heating source.

“The emphasis behind it was to help people understand ... the heat output of wood as opposed to electricity,” he said. “They can see the comparison and figure out if firewood is something they want to do.”

The brochure is one of many projects of the Sitka SAF chapter. Others are the annual fifth-grade Forest Education Day and an upcoming collaborative forestry project with local Boy Scout troop.

“I’ve been talking with Paul Rioux with the Boy Scouts about possibly doing a project out by the high school (portion of the) Cross Trail,” Edwards said. “We’re going to ... try and get some light back and improve the growth of those trees.”

The project would involve thinning the second-growth forest in the area, which could also result in a Boy Scout firewood sale.

Until then, Sitkans can use the SAF brochure as a guide.