(Big Lake, AK) – Senate Bill 87, sponsored by Senator Jesse Bjorkman (R-Nikiski), was signed into law Wednesday. The bill creates a local lumber grading program for Alaska sawmill operators to become certified to grade and sell certain types of dimensional lumber that they have produced for residential construction.
“Local lumber grading in Alaska will create economic opportunities for small businesses, provide an opportunity for Alaskans to purchase local products, and perhaps offer building materials at a lower cost than dimensional lumber from the lower 48,” said Senator Bjorkman. “It will also encourage higher value-added use of materials harvested from forest thinning and hazardous fuels reduction projects that would otherwise be piled and burned.”
Alaska is struggling to meet housing shortages across the state, made worse by the significant increase in the cost of construction materials and lag time due to supply chain issues. Currently, dimensional lumber used in construction must be graded and stamped by third-party grading agencies in order to meet lender requirements and building codes.
“Local lumber has been used successfully to build sturdy houses, boats, and even aircraft parts for generations already,” said Trevor Kauffman, Kenai Peninsula sawmill operator and owner of Kauffman Enterprises. “However, Alaska’s relatively small forest products industry has not been able to bear the cost of Pacific Northwest lumber grading services, in most cases. To use an expression from the forest industry, the local use lumber program will “grease the skids” for skilled Alaskans to bring high-quality wood products to market.”
The Department of Natural Resources will operate the local lumber grading program and oversee the criteria used for grading the allowed Number 2 and better, Stud and Number 3 grades of dimensional lumber. The Department will provide free training for sawmill operators and establish benchmarks for certification. Once certified, a sawmill operator could then grade and sell the dimensional lumber they produce directly to a homeowner or their contractor for use in a residential structure with three or fewer units in areas where building codes allow for the use of locally graded lumber.
“Creating new opportunities for lumber sales through the local lumber grading program can serve as a catalyst to help grow Alaska’s timber sector by lowering the barrier of entry for new sawmills,” said Senator Bjorkman. “In addition to providing economic opportunities across the state, this could provide the additionality needed for creating and selling forest carbon offset projects.”
Senate Bill 87 received strong, statewide bi-partisan support, passing the House with a vote of 38 -1 and the Senate unanimously.