Guest Post by Ryan Tollefsen
“This Land Is Your Land,” Woody Guthrie's now famous ode to the freedom and beauty of America, begins with the statement that “this land is your land, this land is my land.” Guthrie's vision was rooted in the freedom of movement in the country's natural splendor. In hindsight, it was a great call to action to both appreciate and keep America's public lands safe and open to all to enjoy.
As the country has evolved and developed, large areas of stunning, open, public land has become more scarce. This should serve to remind citizens of the importance of national parks and public land space for conservation and overall wellbeing. One such example of how public lands can greatly benefit a community, a state, and the nation as a whole is the Tongass National Forest.
Located in Southeast Alaska, the Tongass is the largest national forest in the United States with more than 17 million acres of land, part of the largest temperate rainforest in the world. Home to a diverse range of species and rare flora and fauna, the Tongass spans part of the islands of the Alexander Archipelago and the fjords, glaciers, and peaks of the Coast Mountains and includes wetlands, snow, rock, ice, non-forest vegetation, and forests in 19 designated wilderness areas.
Protected creatures, which are rarely found in other parts of North America, roam the islands of Tongass along the coast. Salmon, brown and black bears, and bald eagles are all key inhabitants of the forest along with wolves, mountain goats, black-tailed deer, and migratory birds. Orca and humpback whales, sea lions, seals, sea otters, and porpoises populate the marine waters in the area. As far as human life goes, more than 75,000 people rely upon the land of the Tongass National Forest. It is also home to Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples and 31 different communities, the largest of which is Alaska's capital, Juneau
The Tongass National Forest is well positioned as a part of Alaska's natural and national heritage, setting the state apart from others with its natural beauty and dedication to preserving public space. It's part of the state's commitment to nature, with more than half of Alaska's square miles are allocated to the public trust. These areas belong to all citizens with the responsibility of maintaining and conserving their ecosystems provided for by the public trust. Once these lands are lost or sold, there is no longer an obligation to manage them in a way that benefits multiple uses for all citizens.
The Tongass National Forest is a treasured asset to the people of Alaska and Americans in general looking to get away in Alaska's natural beauty. Its public lands support commercial, sporting, fishing, tourism, recreation, manufacturing, adventuring and guiding industries that provide thousands of jobs to residents that contribute billions of dollars to the economy. Perhaps just as importantly, they bring an appreciation of the great outdoors and the joy of activity to others through hunting, fishing, foraging, kayaking, hiking, skiing, trekking, and other adventure activities.
Naturally, keeping the Tongass safe and in the hands of the public trust ensures that all its benefits can be reaped by the public. Transferring public lands into private hands damages the resource based economy and cultural heritage of Southeast Alaska. Losing this asset would harm the communities and people who rely on access to its natural resources while also eliminating access to the greater tourism industry. Consequently, transferring management of public lands such as Tongass to private entities hurts their fish and game populations by terminating crucial federal conservation measures and standards. For the beauty, abundance, prosperity, and enjoyment of America's public lands, citizens should strive to uphold their status as lands & “made for you and me.”