Timber! The biomass energy harvest around Galena has begun

Timber! The biomass energy harvest around Galena has begun
The SEGA danglehead processor at work in timber harvest area #2, just west of Galena. Photo courtesy KIYU radio, Galena.

The SEGA danglehead processor at work in timber harvest area #2, just west of Galena. Photo courtesy KIYU radio, Galena.

Sustainable Energy for Galena Alaska hired three equipment operators last week, and the crew went right to work on the land permitted for timber harvest by Gana-A’Yoo Limited – the village corporation for Galena, Kaltag, Nulato and Koyukuk.

The final timber sale agreement with Gana-A’Yoo was only finished a few weeks ago, due to legal questions about liability.

SEGA General Manager Tim Kalke says it’s great to finally get into the woods, after so much work behind a desk to prepare for the timber harvest operations. But managers and crew alike are trying to proceed cautiously.

Kalke: “We’re on a crawl-walk-run mentality on this whole project. Safety is obviously our number one concern. And doing things properly and efficiently. And growing into it.”

The harvest is beginning in cottonwood-dominated forest west of the Galena airport, but SEGA will also deal with spruce and birch when they can. Trees are cut down, limbed, bucked into large sections, and then stacked in small groups. Later this winter when the ground is completely frozen, a log truck will retrieve the wood and bring it to a processing area on base, where logs will be turned into chips.

Ten harvest areas have been mapped out, with a dozer trail leading to each one. These harvest areas might yield only about half of what SEGA originally estimated that they would, but Kalke says it’s a good first step.

Kalke: “Based off of this 27 acres, we estimate that that is approximately 60,000 cubic feet of solid wood. If we are able to get that all felled, bucked, and then yarded, that is certainly success for this initial push. If we can get that set up before the temperature gets too cold for us and the dark becomes a limiting factor, we would be very pleased with that performance standard.”

SEGA is harvesting trees between 2 and 14 inches in diameter, according to Kalke, because that is the range that the chipper will handle. Smaller materials like the tops and branches are likely to bind up the chipper or sneak through in large sections, causing problems with the chip handling system that will move chips from storage to the boiler.

That means that SEGA is not clear-cutting entire swathes of forest, but only cutting trees that suit their needs. As Kalke explained while standing in one of the harvest areas, that might mean leaving some big trees standing

Kalke: “There’s timber here that is far too large for us to use in the chipper. While we are bringing some of that home for potentially other purposes, we are leaving these ones here in a bit of a shelter belt, so that stand [of trees] can continue on.”

Other purposes for the wood that SEGA is harvesting might include commercial firewood sales, and value-added products like wood trim.

SEGA is hoping to have wood chips ready to go into a new wood-based heating system on base by this time next year.

By Tim Bodony
Published at KIYU radio on November 2

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