Bill Thomason, Miller and Cabin Maker

Thorne Bay, Alaska

Bill and Carolyn Thomason own a small sawmill company called Woodcuts, located on Prince of Wales Island at the southern end of the Alaska Panhandle. It’s a remote region that’s known for lush coastal rainforests, indigenous culture and art, and wild salmon streams.

You and your wife, Carolyn, are entrepreneurs who own a small sawmill in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. It’s a place where the forest products industry has downsized and some rural communities are losing population. At a time like this, where do you see the opportunity?

Bill Thomason:

Because of the logging in the past there’s now a lot of young-growth (forest). And there has not been any interest at all in doing anything with this. Yet our thinking is that there are going to be wood products coming from this renewable second-growth resource.

The lovely log cabin you’re building from young-growth logs actually started at a forest restoration site in the coastal rainforest of the Tongass National Forest. Is there a future in building things from young-growth forests?

Bill Thomason:

This cabin serves as a pilot project to help show how forest restoration can work for both wildlife and communities like ours. I think those kinds of experiments need to be done to prepare for a future when more of these young-growth forests are prime for restoration. The possibilities are definitely there. There are lots of products that could be made by small mills that could be made with a small volume of timber. The thing about this project, it demonstrates that there are ways to utilize second-growth.

Even as you watch the bottom line, you see the forest as more than a source of board-feet. How do you do it?

Bill Thomason:

The bottom line is we just really enjoy wheat we’re doing. We don’t see ourselves as trailblazers, we’re just doing what we need to do. What we’re trying to do is create something tangible with quality wood, provide for a local economy, and do the right thing for fish and wildlife.


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