by Lisa Feyereisen, Native Village of Napaimute
From the salmon running up our rivers, the moose foraging in our lands and the berries bursting from the tundra, people in the Middle Kuskokwim have long recognized the value of our natural resources. Our land is rich with resources and there are many opportunities to utilize these gifts if we exercise balance.
With this spirit of understanding, the Native Village of Napaimute (NVN) discovered the benefit of wood resources to the development of economic opportunities for the Middle Kuskokwim and has used this resource to bring industry and reforestation to the area.
This economic opportunity started at a small sawmill and has since evolved into a timber harvesting project that has brought jobs, industry and affordable housing to our region. It has also led to a first of its kind reforestation program, a partnership between NVN, TKC and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), that will allow the seeds of the original forest to be harvested and used to plant new trees on TKC land.
At the forefront of every decision on this project is the belief that the region’s resources are meant to be managed to benefit The Kuskokwim Corporation (TKC) Shareholders while also protecting the environment.
When you look around the village of Napaimute, nearly all of the tribal buildings and homes have been built with the assistance of a small sawmill owned by the tribe. It is also used annually to fill small lumber orders in a weak attempt to meet the demand for locally produced lumber. This was the beginning of the project.
For more than a decade, we focused on this most basic use of our Middle Kuskokwim wood resources – firewood production, transportation and marketing to the Lower Kuskokwim and Coast. This resulted in a 1,000-cord firewood contract with Coastal Villages Region Fund (CVRF) and we learned many lessons along the way, including:
1. Timber harvesting and production of wood products in any form (firewood or lumber) needs to occur as close to the Lower Kuskokwim with its large population and demand as possible.
2. Timber harvesting and production of wood products needs to be located near a full-time Middle Kuskokwim community where there is a large employment pool to draw from.
3. Only TKC lands are suitable for long-term timber harvest operations in the lower section of the Middle Kuskokwim. There are only a few small, lightly timbered areas of Federal or State land adjacent to the river downstream of Aniak.
With these lessons in mind, NVN approached TKC about a timber sale agreement on 400 acres of heavily timbered land three miles downstream of Lower Kalskag. In 2012, NVN and TKC signed the Timber Sale Agreement, providing jobs and firewood to people across the region. Since the agreement, Napaimute has built a customer base of hundreds. Middle Kuskokwim firewood can be found providing families with warmth in every village from Chefornak to Tuluksak.
While the timber provides heat for homes it also provides many families with much more. We employ good, reliable employees that get to go home every night to their families, and their jobs provide food for the table. Our firewood products are transported to the Lower River year-round – by barge in the summer and truck in the winter. A safe, reliable ice road is an added benefit to all residents of the Middle Kuskokwim River, due in large part to our Kalskag timber harvesting operation and our need to move wood down the river in winter.
With this growth and success, Napaimute continues to invest in better equipment and in our Kalskag employees through training. NVN’s leadership has also begun to expand their vision for the use of Middle Kuskokwim wood resources beyond just firewood. Realizing that there is a desperate need for affordable low-income housing in the Middle River, Napaimute developed a business plan to purchase the Nelson Brother’s Sawmill, and the HUD Indian Community Development Block Grant (ICDBG) looked like our best option. We received formal notice of our award last year.
Napaimute has been busy working with TKC to ensure our timber harvests are sustainable, responsible and environmentally protective. The timber sale agreement with TKC requires NVN to carry six different types of insurance, put up a performance bond, and pay a stumpage fee for the wood we harvest. We are also required to submit a harvest plan of operations to both TKC and the State of Alaska Division of Forestry each year prior to commencing the next year’s harvest. The TKC forester inspects the site each fall at the end of the current season.
Timber harvested from TKC land has provided the region with jobs, warmth and prosperity, and it’s a resource that managed properly, can be renewable and benefit generations to come. TKC strives to manage its lands in a manner that derives the maximum benefit for its Shareholders and safeguards land-based traditions and values for future generations. It is with this in mind that TKC and NVN embarked on a new, first of its kind reforestation plan. In July, an agreement was signed and the reforestation plan was initiated with several phases to come.
Many of us pride ourselves on our regional roots and our new forest will have that same pride. Seeds from trees cut at the harvest site below Lower Kalskag have been taken to Fairbanks for processing before they will be returned to our region to grow into a healthy forest in their original home. The reforestation plans demonstrate Napaimute’s connection to the land and commitment to its healthy preservation.
Without cooperation from a number of agencies and people in the region, success would not be possible. With the infrastructure, agreements, and reforestation plan in place, Napaimute looks forward to providing affordable log home packages, as well as continuing to provide firewood for the treeless tundra villages and jobs for the Middle Kuskokwim Region people for many years to come.
Native Village of Napaimute Harvest Plan
• Complies with the Alaska Forest Practices Act and Regulations (FRPA)
• Preserves vital Shareholder resources
• Maintains water quality and aesthetic attributes of the property
• Restricts uses that would substantially reduce the corporation’s ability to manage portions of its lands for future commercial timber production and subsistence hunting and gathering for its Shareholders
• Promotes the growth and health of forests that will become the basis for sustainable forest based business
• Enhances and conserves wildlife habitat
Winter – Coordinate with NRCS on EQIP grant
Preseason – Procure scarification equipment
Spring – Conduct regeneration surveys of units harvested in 2013-14
Late summer – Scarification of units 2015-16, totaling 45.1 acres
Autumn – Collect seeds and send to seed bank
Fall – Report results of regeneration survey to TKC and State Division of Forestry
Winter – Continue to coordinate with NRCS on EQIP grant
Preseason – Evaluate unit harvest in 2017 and determine prescriptions
Late summer – Apply prescriptions on unit harvested in 2017
Autumn – Collect seeds and send to seed bank, if required
Fall – Report results to TKC and State Division of Forestry