by Marian Giannulis
For decades America’s largest national forest has been subjected to industrial clear-cut logging that has left its bountiful salmon runs, large deer and bear populations and incredible scenery at risk. The Tongass National Forest is part of the largest temperate rainforest on earth and is the only national forest where clear cut logging of old growth forest still takes places on an industrial scale. This outdated and highly-subsidized practice has finally come to an end with Thursday’s announcement of the U.S. Forest Services’ new “Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy.”
A key component of the new strategy is to align management of the Tongass with the economic and ecological realities of the region, where fishing, guiding and tourism have been the dominant sources of employment for decades. To do this, the Forest Service is ending large-scale old growth timber sales on the Tongass and focusing, instead, on forest restoration, recreation and resilience, including for climate, wildlife habit and watershed improvement. This is a welcome change for one of the rarest ecosystems on the planet.
Another integral piece of the strategy is to initiate a rulemaking this summer that will propose restoring 2001 Roadless Rule protections. An October 2020, decision exempted the Tongass from the Roadless Rule, which opened the door to expanded industrial old-growth logging and construction of new logging roads on more than 9 million acres of the forest. This exemption left critical fish and wildlife habitat vulnerable.
Reinstating the roadless rule and refocusing agency resources on restoration and recreation is a win for Alaska’s people as well as its fish and wildlife. Alaskans share a vision for the future where the salmon runs are robust, the wildlife populations are high, and the tourism and fishing industry continue to drive the economy of Southeast Alaska. Alaskans are now one step closer to this vision. A healthy forest is integral to the local economy, where fishing and tourism support 1 in 4 of the region’s jobs and contribute $2 billion annually to the local economy. These jobs depend on the flourishing fish and wildlife and awe-inspiring landscapes that are quintessential to the Tongass.
The Tongass is one of the few places in the world where wild salmon and trout still thrive. The old-growth and mature forest throughout the Tongass is globally significant for mitigating effects of climate change and providing healthy, productive rivers, wild fish, food, jobs, and recreation that people throughout Alaska and the rest of the country depend on. This announcement puts the Tongass on the right track to ensure these valuable resources are around for generations to come.
This blog post was originally shared on the Trout Unlimited webpage, and written by Marian Giannulis, the Trout Unlimited Alaska Communications and Engagement Director.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Chris Wood, president and CEO, Trout Unlimited, firstname.lastname@example.org
Austin Williams, Alaska legal and policy director, Trout Unlimited, (907) 227-1590 or email@example.com
July 15, 2021
U.S. Forest Service charts a new direction for the Tongass National Forest
By ending industrial old-growth logging and investing in restoration, USFS places new focus on forest health, recreation, and resiliency
JUNEAU, AK — The U.S. Forest Service announced today a new “Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy” for the Tongass National Forest. Details of the strategy include fully reinstating the 2001 roadless rule; ending large-scale old-growth logging on the Tongass and prioritizing restoration, recreation, and resiliency; and making significant new investments in projects that support sustainable economic growth. Trout Unlimited applauds the Forest Service’s decision to invest in conserving the natural resources of the Tongass.
“The real value of the Tongass is in its abundant fish and wildlife, its cultural resources, and in its beautiful scenery and wild landscapes,” said Austin Williams, Trout Unlimited’s Alaska director of law and policy. “This announcement will help ensure these values remain long into the future, that we are investing where we see the greatest return, and that management of the Tongass supports the region’s economic mainstays of fishing and tourism.”
Decades of industrial-scale logging have claimed many of the best and most productive trees on the Tongass. While just 12 percent of the productive old-growth forest on the Tongass has been cut, unsustainable clear-cut logging has removed 66.5 percent of the highest-volume contiguous old-growth forest. On Prince of Wales Island, where logging has been most intense, 93.8 percent of such forest is gone. Forest-wide, the spiderweb of logging roads has left of legacy of more than 1,100 culverts that fail to meet state or federal standards for fish migration and impede access to nearly 250 miles of salmon and trout stream. Yet, an October 2020, decision exempted the Tongass from the roadless rule, which
opened the door to expanded industrial old-growth logging and construction of new logging roads on more than 9 million acres of the forest.
Reinstating the roadless rule and refocusing agency resources on restoration and recreation instead of large-scale, old-growth logging will support Southeast Alaska’s diversified economy and help conserve scarce forest resources. A healthy forest is integral to the local economy with fishing and tourism making up 1 in 4 of the region’s jobs and contributing $2 billion annually to the local economy. These jobs are dependent upon the flourishing fish and wildlife and scenic beauty that are quintessential to the Tongass.
“The Tongass is one of the last, best places for wild salmon left in North America and a globally significant resource for slowing the impacts of climate change,” said Chris Wood, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “Old-growth timber sales have long been notorious for losing money; reinstating the roadless rule and prioritizing restoration is an investment in the forest’s most valuable and lasting resources.
More than 96% of all public comments opposed the “Tongass Exemption” and supported keeping roadless area protections. A statewide 2019 poll commissioned by Trout Unlimited found the majority of likely voters in Alaska opposed efforts to repeal the Roadless Rule and strongly supported efforts to protect salmon, wildlife, and high-value salmon streams in the Tongass.
“For far too long, our fish and wildlife were taken for granted on the Tongass,” said Williams. “It’s a breath of fresh air to see investments made to ensure they are around for future generations.”
The economic factors and public support make it clear – a healthy forest is what’s best for the wildlife, people and economy of Southeast Alaska.
Trout Unlimited, the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization, is dedicated to caring for and recovering America’s rivers and streams, so our children can experience the joy of wild and native trout and salmon. Across the country, TU brings to bear local, regional, and national grassroots organizing, durable partnerships, science-backed policy muscle, and legal firepower on behalf of trout and salmon fisheries, healthy waters and vibrant communities. In Alaska, we work with sportsmen and women to ensure the state’s trout and salmon resources remain healthy far into the future through our local chapters and offices in Anchorage and Juneau. Learn more about our work to conserve key areas of the Tongass National Forest at www.americansalmonforest.org
View/download the full press release here.