Trout Unlimited (TU) Alaska Program is at Fish Expo this week in Seattle, reaching out to fishermen and others about TU’s Tongass 77 and Transboundary campaigns.
Formally known as Pacific Marine Expo, the three-day conference that ends tomorrow is the largest commercial marine trade show on the West Coast. It’s great place to spread the word about the threats facing Southeast Alaska wild salmon and the opportunities to conserve, protect and restore the top salmon-producing watersheds in the Tongass National Forest.
TU’s Heather Hardcastle and Melanie Brown (middle and right in photo) are collecting signatures and sharing information at Fish Expo with fishermen, boat builders, gear and equipment suppliers, fabricators, seafood processors and others whose livelihoods revolve around the ocean and the marine industries.
Helping Heather and Melanie to staff the TU booth is photojournalist Amy Gulick, author of “Salmon in the Trees,” a book that tells the story of the remarkable connection among salmon, people, trees and wildlife of the Tongass rain forest. Thanks, Amy!
Trout Unlimited’s Heather Hardcastle and her husband, Kirk, took the story of Tongass wild salmon to the campus of Stanford University in California this fall. The Hardcastles, who are co-owners of the Juneau-based sustainable seafood company, Taku River Reds, were guest speakers at Stanford’s Sustainable Seafood Week. The weeklong series of events at Stanford includes Alaska wild salmon in the dining halls, film screenings, panel discussions, and cooking classes focusing on sustainable seafood.
“It was a great opportunity for us to spread the word far and wide about how amazing the Tongass National Forest is in terms of salmon production and to get the students and the faculty at Stanford really excited about the fish and about what they can do to help sustain the forest habitat that makes it all possible,” said Heather.
The Hardcastles’ company sells about 25,000 pounds of wild-caught salmon to Stanford each year. The university serves the fish in each of its 11 dining halls throughtout the year. During Sustainable Seafood Week, the Hardcastles offered cooking demonstrations and talks about efforts to conserve wild salmon habitat in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass rain forest.
“Everyone was really receptive to hearing about the Tongass 77 campaign and wanted to know how they could get involved. It was super-encouraging for us,” said Kirk.
Dara Olmsted Silverstein, Stanford’s Sustainable Food Program Manager, invited the Hardcastles to meet with students and give presentations throughout the week. She hopes to do more with them in the coming year.
“The students were very engaged in learning about the Tongass. Their response was really overwhelmingly positive. Stanford is really proud to sources its wild salmon from Taku River Reds, a company that’s all about sustainably harvesting fish and protecting the watersheds that the salmon depend upon,” said Dara.
Here are some other images from the week:
One of Trout Unlimited’s partners in the Tongass National Forest, Sitka Conservation Society, has been doing some innovative outreach to school children around salmon education. It’s a program called “Fish to Schools.”
The goals are to connect students to local foods like salmon, to learn traditions, and to understand the impact of food choices on the body, economy, and environment. During a recent visit with some third-graders in Sitka, Tracy Gagnon zeroed in on the importance of salmon-related jobs in Sitka and elsewhere in Southeast Alaska. Gagnon is SCS’s community sustainability organizer.
Read Tracy’s blog post about the creative methods she used to teach children about how salmon underpin life in Southeast Alaska, including many jobs and sources of income.
It’s hard not to be frustrated with the Forest Service. If this bloated federal bureaucracy isn’t wasting taxpayer dollars on money-losing timber sales in Southeast Alaska, its officials are whining about how costly public-use cabins are to maintain in the Tongass National Forest. Or, as the case may be, planning to shut them down.
Last week the federal agency issued a press release from its Ketchikan office saying because some of the 152 public cabins on the Tongass sit in remote locations and don’t experience heavy use, they “have been allowed to deteriorate.” And the Forest Service’s plan is to close a yet-to-be-determined number. The cabin program lost $600,000 last year so in the interest of being “strategic,” the best way to reverse the budget shortfall, the Forest Service argues, is to shutter cabins. The agency blames the situation, in part, on reduced federal funding for recreation in the Tongass, saying it’s dropped by 50 percent over the last decade or so.
Let’s get this straight. The Tongass is one of Alaska’s most stunningly beautiful places. It’s a world-class destination for tourists, hunters, anglers and others, a place that supports a $1 billion annual visitor industry. More than one million tourists descend upon the Southeast Alaska rain forest every year. They drop more than $2 billion annually on airfares, souvenirs, T-shirts, and local excursions like fly fishing, kayaking and flight seeing. But somehow the Forest Service can’t figure out a way to entice more of these people to use public facilities in the Tongass? They can’t somehow sell the story of these rustic, scenic cabins located in some of the country’s most gorgeous natural settings? This is either a case of really bad marketing or an agency that knows nothing about dollars and sense.
Case in point: while the Forest Service is planning to shutter public cabins popular with locals and visitors alike, it’s continuing to waste more than $20 million a year putting together timber sales that lose big piles of money and create huge public controversy. The Tongass timber industry accounts for less than one percent of jobs in Southeast Alaska and yet it gets the lion’s share of the Forest Service budget in Southeast. Salmon and trout fisheries account for more than 10 percent of regional jobs. Visitor services provide about 20 percent of overall Southeast Alaska employment. And yet somehow funding for these industries always takes a back seat to the Forest Service’s logging program. It makes zero economic sense.
If you disagree with the Forest Service’s plan to close Tongass cabins, do something about it. The Forest Service contact is listed as Hans von Rekowski, staff officer for recreation, heritage, and wilderness in the Tongass. Tell him this misguided decision needs to be halted and more of the taxpayer funds dedicated to old-growth logging should be directed to recreation, fisheries and visitor services – the Tongass’ real money makers. His phone number is 907-747-4217 and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.