The mystique of an Alaska rainforest and its prolific salmon runs lured New Englander Tracy Sylvester to a job blowing up roads in the Tongass National Forest. As a U.S. Forest Service intern, Sylvester worked on a blasting crew that took out abandoned logging roads and old culverts blocking the passage of wild salmon. “I spent the summer setting off explosives and shoveling dirt. It was fun,” said Sylvester, 27, who has a bachelor’s degree in fisheries biology.
Most of the work took place on Baranof Island in Southeast Alaska’s bear- and salmon-rich Tongass rain forest, a 17-million-acre expanse of giant spruce, hemlock, and cedar trees nestled against northern British Columbia. Commercial, sport, and subsistence fishing, along with governmentPhoto by Ben Hamilton, Courtesy of Sitka Conservation Society
and tourism jobs, fuel the regional economy. Timber once dominated both the economy and the headlines. But the industry is much smaller now, the controversy around logging less heated, and mill owners are preparing to retool from old to young-growth harvest and manufacture.
Sylvester’s college intern work that summer in 2007 – decommissioning logging roads and restoring logged watersheds – is part of a transition sweeping the Tongass. Charged with overseeing the Tongass, the U.S. Forest Service is moving away from managing the country’s largest national forest for industrial logging to a future that’s focused more around niche timber sales, forest stewardship and restoration, and fisheries, particularly salmon.
“It’s becoming a greater priority for a couple of reasons,” said Wayne Owen, a top-level Forest Service official based in Juneau. “I think the nature of the forest products industry is changing and that certainly contributes to it. I also think the voice of the people with respect to salmon is being heard more clearly locally, regionally, and nationally and that makes a difference especially when people work with the Forest Service, when you have that spirit of cooperative engagement.” Read more in the May issue of Pacific Fishing magazine.