What the new forest plan means for our Tongass National Forest

©Earl Harper

Guest blog post by Jenny Weis, Communications Director at Trout Unlimited – Alaska 

Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest produces more wild salmon than anywhere else in the country. At 17 million acres, this magnificent landscape of western hemlock, Sitka spruce, western red cedar and Alaska yellow cedar trees is part of the world’s largest remaining intact temperate rain forest and hosts some of the rarest ecosystems on the planet that are ideal spawning and rearing conditions for wild Pacific salmon and trout.

Besides sustaining the cultures and lifestyles of local residents including three coastal tribes, salmon from the Tongass employ one in 10 people in the region and contribute an estimated $1 billion per year to the Southeast Alaska economy.

Despite its bounty and unique role as America’s last “salmon forest,” the Tongass faces threats.

Salmon depend on intact watersheds that haven’t been degraded by logging and road-building. Despite this, huge volumes of the old growth forest have been logged from public lands in Southeast Alaska. Many miles of road are carved into pristine areas and pulp mills have historically polluted the air and water. Though the situation on the ground is bad, the political climate can, at times, be even worse.

Historically, the Forest Service has been too hung-up on supporting the old-growth logging industry to prioritize righting the wrongs done to the forest and protecting salmon and trout for future generations.

Until this month.

The Forest Service just officially amended the Tongass Land Management Plan to prioritize protections the most important areas for salmon and trout in the forest. The Tongass Land Management Plan is the document that governs activities including logging, road-building, mining, habitat restoration and recreation. The new plan nudges the existing timber industry into using young growth, meaning smaller trees that have grown back after clear-cut logging and, over the course of 16 years, phases out large-scale old growth logging altogether in the Tongass. This is excellent news for Tongass fish and the businesses that depend on them!

While we know special interests, still pining for the heavy logging of the past, will work to roll back or eliminate the best parts of this plan, we are celebrating this major milestone for healthy Tongass fisheries. TU will work to uphold this progress, and also to achieve further investments at the state and federal levels in salmon and recreation.

Thank you for your support!

©Earl Harper

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