Teaming up to revive an old industry: Meet Tenakee Springs’ last loggers
When Gordon Chew first moved to Tenakee Springs with his family 17 years ago, he hadn’t planned to go into logging. But over time, he said he saw the need for a niche — harvesting wood locally from the Tongass National Forest in an eco-friendly way.
Now, Chew operates Tenakee Logging Company with his 26-year-old son, Sterling. The business is based out of Tenakee Springs, a small Southeast community with just 60 full-time residents. Flying into town, you can still see the scars left on the hillside by clear-cutting during Tenakee’s old logging ventures.
Tenakee Springs used to be a town where families settled for steady work in the woods. But now, industry’s footprint has faded. Most logging operations shut down more than a decade ago.
Just over three miles across Tenakee Inlet at Corner Bay, Tenakee Logging Company is starting up.
“This is our eighth year over here with a special use permit from the feds,” Gordon Chew said.
The Chews are the last loggers in Tenakee Springs, but they like to look at it a little differently.
“We like to think that we’re the first loggers because we’re not doing something that’s been done before,” Gordon Chew said.
Never before has there been selective logging in Corner Bay.
“In a selective process where the Forest Service picks trees for us to cut — it’s one out of every three trees, so there’s still a viable stand left,” Gordon Chew explained. “There’s healthy trees, unhealthy trees, dead, standing dead — which is habitat for lots and lots of animals and bugs.”
In the past, loggers wiped out entire swaths of forest. The problem, Sterling Chew said, is that the trees grew back all at once, creating such thick brush that deer couldn’t migrate through. Those deer are dinner for people in Tenakee Springs.
“It’s really how I survive, in a huge way, so I’m always thinking about that,” Sterling Chew said.
Working as a father-son duo isn’t easy, the men said.
“It’s tough,” Gordon Chew laughed.
“We kind of butt heads sometimes,” Sterling Chew chimed in.
But the pair said it’s work they’re proud of.
“For us, to see another clear cut happen here would be a huge deal,” Sterling Chew said. “I hope I never have to see that happen, ever.”
The team is working smaller to leave fewer tracks, and keep the timber industry — along with Tenakee Springs — growing.
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