More Protection Urged for Fish in Tongass National Forest

 A group of more than 230 scientists is urging Congress to
enact stronger protections for wild salmon in the Tongass National Forest in
southeast Alaska by supporting a legislative proposal called the Tongass 77.

That legislation would permanently conserve the most
productive and currently unprotected watersheds for salmon and trout across
nearly two million acres, the scientists said in an announcement June 10.

The 17-million acre national forest produces about 70
percent of all wild salmon harvested from national forests in the United States
and roughly 28 percent of Alaska’s overall salmon catch, U.S. Forest Service
data shows.

Tongass 77 legislation would permanently protect 58 percent
of all Tongass salmon and trout spawning and rearing habitat at the watershed
scale, said Heather Hardcastle, a Juneau gillnet fish harvester and biologist
who works for the Trout Unlimited Alaska program, a supporter of the

Scientific research conducted by Audubon Alaska and The
Nature Conservancy and reviewed by local fisheries experts identified the
Tongass 77 watersheds as the highest-quality habitat for salmon, trout and
other wildlife that lacks permanent protection in the Tongass. Timber and
mining, road building, more than 40 proposed and existing energy projects, and
several initiatives to privatize large swaths of the Tongass are currently in
the works for these lands. Efforts to privatize several million acres of the
forest come from Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell’s Alaska timber jobs task force,
Sealaska Corp., and other Southeast Alaska Native groups.

These initiatives and development activities have the
potential to significantly impact the spawning and rearing habitat of Tongass
salmon and trout as well as other species dependent on old-growth forest, the
scientists said.

The scientists noted in their letter to Congress that
populations of many species that are rare or have declined significantly in
their southern ranges, including all Pacific salmon and steelhead trout
species, brown bears, wolves, marten, bald eagles, marbled murrelets, and
northern goshawks, are still abundant in Southeast Alaska, but face threats
from climate change and ongoing habitat loss and fragmentation from