Foresters began replanting the scorched areas of Chiniak on Friday.
The borough contracted with Washington-based NorthWind Forest Consultants to recover some of the forest’s former luster. It was damaged in the 2015 Twin Creeks fire.
Forester David Nesheim, who is currently in Chiniak, says they’re planting Sitka Spruce sourced from the Juneau and Hoonah area – the same stock Leisnoi uses.
He says they’re replanting using shovels and have 740 to 770 acres to cover with an eight-man crew.
“We should be getting about 1500 seedlings per guy per day. We’re hoping that it doesn’t take much longer than 25 days to put the 278,000 seedlings into the ground.”
He says the Twin Creeks Fire wasn’t hot enough to damage the soil, and the ground should be in good condition to receive the trees.
“So, the soil, if anything has gotten a big boost from the fire itself by releasing a lot of the organic material that was on the forest floor and turning it into more readily available nutrients for the vegetation.”
In addition to the spruce, Nesheim says they’ve planted 2200 cottonwood along Big Creek stream to maintain the buffer zone along the waterway, called a riparian management zone.
Nesheim says hardwoods may be better for the stream environment.
“A lot more organic leaf matter is released on an annual basis. A different variety and quantity of insects are associated with deciduous trees. And, in some cases, the deciduous trees are a nitrogen fixing species, and so it adds nitrogen to the waters which is advantageous to the fish and the aquatic insects that fish feed on.”
Nesheim says it’ll take a couple of years for the seedlings to establish themselves.
That is, if all goes well and the other vegetation doesn’t overtake the seedlings or predators, like rabbits, don’t eat away at them.
Nesheim says the trees should be 3 to 4 feet tall by age five or seven. At some point beyond that, he says the trees will start gaining height at about 12 to 18 inches a year, and he says the trees should be 40 to 50 feet in roughly 40 years.