Alaska Division of Economic Development

Forest Products

Forest products have been an important contributor to the economy of Alaska for over half a century. Sitka spruce and western hemlock of very high quality have been exported as logs, lumber and timbers into the Pacific Rim for the past forty years. The lower quality portion of the timber was used to produce dissolving pulp which was sold around the world for producing rayon, pharmaceuticals, and fine quality paper products.

Until the mid 1980s, almost all of the export volume of Alaska wood fiber products originated from the coastal rain forest of Southeast Alaska. At that time, the Southcentral forest, also a coastal rain forest, experienced an increasing volume harvest and export of logs and lumber. The interior "boreal" forest in Alaska, containing commercial stands of white spruce and paper birch, has not been exploited to a comparable degree.

Approximately one hundred commercial sawmills and secondary manufacturers operate across the state. These range from ten to twenty mills that produce more than 1mmbf of products annually, with a select few of those producing 25 mmbf or more, to mobile dimensional mills sawing personal-use wood from national and state forests for individual clients. Products produced by Alaska mills vary across a wide range that is somewhat heavily weighted on the primary processing end of the spectrum. Products include: large cants and flitches, shop lumber destined for remanufacture, dimensional lumber, railway ties, shakes and shingles, music wood, and a host of specialty and craft products.

Recent years have been tough ones for the industry, but significant changes are moving the industry toward value-added processing and long-term sustainability. Southeast Alaska’s two pulp mills, in Sitka and Ketchikan, closed in 1993 and 1997, respectively. The Tongass Land Use Management Plan (TLMP) issued in 1997 significantly reduced allowable harvest levels, and most Asian markets are experiencing dramatic downturns in demand and price. However, many Alaskans are responding with a new entrepreneurial focus on value-added processing, and the fundamentals that created a vibrant industry, a world-class resource and a skilled, productive workforce, remain in place.