Alaska's forests are divided into two types: coastal and interior. Coastal forests are dominated by Western Hemlock (60%), Sitka Spruce (32%) and other softwoods (8%). Interior Alaska is vast with extensive stands dominated by White Spruce (64%), Birch (21%) and Poplars (15%). The most important characteristics of the major species found in coastal and interior forests are summarized below.
Sitka Spruce, the official state tree of Alaska, is both the largest and one of the most valuable species in Alaska. It typically reaches a height of 160 feet (49 meters) and a diameter of 3-5 feet (0.91.5 meters). The wood is moderately light, does not shatter easily, is easy to kiln dry, straight grained and is easy to work. It is utilized in making lightweight airplane parts, boats, piano sounding boards, interior and general construction lumber, and high grade pulp.
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This species reaches up to 150 feet (46 meters) in height and ranges from 2-4 feet (0.6-1.2 meters) in diameter. This wood is light and easy to work. Its principal use is in making interior and construction lumber, railway ties, boxes, and pulp.
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Western Red Cedar
These trees can attain heights of 70-130 feet (21-40 meters) and diameters of 2-4 feet (0.6-1.3 meters). The wood is lightweight, straight grained, easy to kiln dry, highly resistant to decay, but it has poor nail holding capacity. It is used in boats, shingles, shakes, poles and lumber for light construction.
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Alaska (Yellow) Cedar
This medium-sized tree typically ranges from 40-80 feet (12-24 meters) high and 1-2 feet (30-60 cm) in diameter. The wood is aromatic, highly resistant to decay, easily worked and it takes a beautiful finish. It is suitable for window frames, exterior doors, boats, poles, furniture and cabinets.
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This species extends over a vast acreage in the Interior. On good sites, it attains heights of 40-70 feet (12-21 meters) and a diameter of 6-18 inches (15-46 cm). On the best sites, it reaches 80-115 feet (24-35 meters) high and diameters of 30 inches (76 cm). The wood's strength-to-weight ratio is exceptionally high. It glues easily and paints well. It also has excellent dimensional stability and is suitable for high quality pulp.
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This species is small to medium sized, usually ranging from 4-12 inches (10-30 cm) in diameter and 20-60 feet (6-18 meters) in height. On good sites, birch can attain 24 inches in diameter (60 cm) and 80 feet (24 meters) in height. It is used for furniture, cabinets, veneer, boxes and pulp.
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This large tree grows 80-100 feet (24-30 meters) tall and 3 feet (1 meter) in diameter. Black Cottonwood is very similar to Balsam Poplar but larger. Its wood is used for boxes, molding, crates, pulp, veneer and lumber.
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Quaking Aspen typically grows 20-40 feet (6-12 meters) high and 3-12 inches (7.5-30 cm) in diameter. It often grows in pure dense stands. Aspen is near white in color, has no odor, and is suitable for food implements, waferboard, boxes, and pulp.
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Other species grow in these two main forested areas. Willow and black spruce are widespread throughout the interior boreal forest. Willow and alder frequently are growing in the coastal forest. However, none of these species appear at this time to be available in adequate size and/or volume per acre to permit commercial timber harvest.
Trees in the hemlock/Sitka spruce forest in the coastal region will frequently reach an age of four to six hundred years and their grain tends to be tight with most of the volume running 12 to 14 rings to the inch. Due to its great age, the defect factors in the coastal forest are high. However, the saw timber produces high-quality, light-colored wood. High annual rainfall and mild maritime climates tend to allow the timber to mature and rot without the normal forest-purging process of fires and insects found in drier and warmer climate conditions.
The interior forest of white spruce and hardwoods is young forest with an age that seldom exceeds 200 years in the softwood, or 100 years in the hardwood. Left to the natural process, fire and disease tend to clean out the timber stands in this region on about a 200 year cycle. Massive areas of timber land loss due to fire and/or insect destruction is common in this forest.
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