PUBLISHED: 7:05 PM on Wednesday, November 5, 2008
For the love of logging
Couple finds success in timber industry
Wes and Susan Tyler founded Icy Straits Lumber with the goal of keeping jobs in Hoonah. The couple nearly fell victim to the city's decaying logging industry but were able to revitalize logging and provide much-needed jobs.

The Tylers were employed by Whitestone logging for the greater part of four decades when their jobs were eliminated after operations moved from Hoonah to Kodiak. With logging in their blood, they decided that accepting a pink slip wasn't an option.

Erik Stimpfle photo
  Icy Strait Lumber specializes in making cabin packages with logs that come in three sizes and it also supplies wood for totem pole carvers and canoe builders. They also sell custom siding, paneling, wood molding, decks, sauna materials, and custom beams.
"I've been logging up here in Southeast since 1967. My father was a logger and my grandfather was a logger; my uncles were loggers. I grew up in that industry," Wes Tyler said describing his roots.

It wasn't just the Tylers' jobs on the line. It was all the people that worked at the mill in Hoonah and the families that depended on logging for their livelihood. With four generations of loggers in the family, the Tyler's weren't going to quit on the life they had worked so hard to build in Hoonah. They made a bold decision to buy Hoonah's lone sawmill and to give it new life.

"Personally we wanted to stay here after the timber industry was going bad," Wes Tyler said. "Our goal (was) keeping the economy going in our area, and trying to keep people working and keep the families going."

Wes and Susan Tyler had seen the big logging companies come and go in southeast, and they had a new vision for their small company: They wanted to make value added, premium wood products, and focus on selling to local builders.

The company's 15 employees process about 1 million feet of wood each year, purchased from smaller timber contracts with the United States Forrest Service. The company uses four types of trees: Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, Western Red Cedar, and Alaska Yellow Cedar.

"We are working to produce high value added products," Wes Tyler said. "That means the wood is sawn and dried and put through planers and molders to make a finished product for end users."

The Tylers specialize in making cabin packages with logs that come in three sizes and also supply wood for totem pole carvers and canoe builders. They also sell custom siding, paneling, wood molding, trim, decks, sauna materials, and custom-made beams and rafters.

One of their newest customers, Doug Drexel, is building a 1,000 square foot log home in Juneau using the large 6x8 logs cut from old growth forest. It may sound expensive to build a home out of mostly red cedar, but Drexel said he was attracted by the beauty and the simplicity of log construction.

"When you put a log structure up, your insulation is done, your outside is done. There is no drywall," he said. "Once you put up a log you finish three or four steps.

"(Icy Straits Lumber) will give you everything you need to be successful."

Icy Straits Lumber also has worked to form friendships with local environmental groups. Mark Gnadt, communications coordinator for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC), a group that is dedicated to preserving the Tongass National Forrest, said Icy Strait Lumber "is exactly the kind of industry that we've been promoting for years on the Tongass."

For many years, the bulk of the premium wood cut in the Tongass was being made into pulp and exported to Japan for processing. It was the finest pulp in the world, but critics said it was like using a Mercedes Bendz to take out the trash.

Two large pulp mills in Sitka and Ketchikan were supplied cheap wood through 50-year contracts that guaranteed 4.5 billion board feet of timber every 10 years. Those contracts were required as part of the 1947 Tongass Timber Act, which also generated numerous lawsuits from groups like the Sierra Club and SEACC. By 1997, both pulp mills had closed down permanently, ushering in a new era for logging in the Tongass.

Loggers like Wes Tyler found a way to survive the changes and his company is now winning praise from SEACC.

"We think there can be a timber industry in Southeast Alaska," Gnadt said. "It just can't be the way it used to be, where they were taking ... 500 million board feet out every year. It needs to be smaller."