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"Transition framework" takes shape at Sitka meeting

SITKA, ALASKA

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The meeting sent a clear message that the Department of Agriculture is in earnest about trying develop an industry around second-growth and stream and forest restoration.

           

Undersecretary Sherman was flanked at the table by Alaska Regional Forester Beth Pendelton and state Rural Development Director Jim Nordlund. The Sitka Tribe of Alaska had the first hour of the meeting to discuss subsistence and government-to-government relationship building.

           

Then came a panel consisting of Marlene Campbell, Sitka’s government relations coordinator, Garry White, the director of the Sitka Economic Development Association, and ten members of the local and state environmental community.

           

Marlene Campbell lamented the loss of jobs in the Sitka Ranger District. She said Sitka had never fully rebounded from the 1993 closure of the Alaska Pulp Corporation mill.

                    

SEDA director Garry White, however, said the framework meant new jobs around Sitka.

 

“Forest restoration. We have an opportunity to get in the forest, thin the trees, and find a product for that. We all realize that economics are a barrier to that. But if we can think creatively and try to find a way to make that economic and find some products that have higher value and make that thing run, then we need help figuring that out.”

 

White also stressed the economic value of tourism, recreation, subsistence, and the importance of retaining the “brainpower” of Sitka’s twenty-year olds.

           

Those twenty-year-olds had a high profile at the meeting. Andrew Thoms, the executive director of the Sitka Conservation Society, seated four young staff or interns at the table, each of whom concentrated on a different facet of the transition, including obtaining capital, hydro power, stewardship, and salmon.

           

Thoms expanded on the idea that Sitka was still on the rebound from the closure of the mill.

 

“It’s not Happyville. It’s a struggling economy that’s diversified, but needs constant effort to keep up that diversification and find new innovation and opportunities. We probably won’t ever see the day again when there’s one big solution for everything like we had in the pulp mill that creates a huge industry. Because of the global economy and global markets it’s going to be small business and a lot of innovation that keeps moving us forward.”

 

Contractor Marcel LaPerriere represented small business on the panel. He proposed that Rural Development fund the construction of a new 3-to-5 preschool using young-growth timber.

           

RDA director Jim Nordlund said his organization invited this type of initiative.

 

“In any community the thing that makes projects happen is the person who steps forward, takes the initiative, has the vision, wants to make something happen. If you don’t have that nothing is really going to move forward.”

 

 Undersecretary Sherman took detailed notes throughout. The meeting was brisk, cordial – and largely unpublicized.

           

Winning a face-to-face meeting with the top official of the Forest is not an everyday event. John Sisk, with the Nature Conservancy in Juneau, suggested that the conservation community in Sitka had become a player in transition policy.

 

“I feel that once again Sitka is in the leadership in the region in so many ways. Gary, Marlene, Andrew and their staffs and the community of the Sitka Tribe really comes together and solves problems … And regionally I find we always look to Sitka as the creator, the incubator of new ideas and new projects.”

 

A luncheon benefit for the Tribe followed the meeting. In the afternoon, the venue shifted to the Starrigavan Valley for a tour of the young-growth cabin project, and a meeting with the seventh-grade scientists who’ve been working on restoration in Starrigavan Creek.

           

Undersecretary Sherman was scheduled to conclude his Southeast visit with a trip to Prince of Wales Island on Saturday.

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