Southeast Alaskans Speak Out on Tongass

Thousands of residents of Southeast Alaska who depend on
wild salmon for their livelihood told federal officials in a comment period
that concluded Feb. 22 that protections are needed for high value salmon
habitat in Tongass National Forest.
The Forest Service is currently in the process of amending
the 2008 Tongass Land and Resource Management Plan, the blueprint for how the
forest is managed.
Of particular concern are the Tongass 77 watersheds.
“Identifying high value fish and wildlife habitat, including
Tongass 77 watersheds, as not suitable for timber production would be a
significant step toward placing fish and wildlife on a more even footing with
traditional extractive industries, and is far overdue,” said Austin Williams,
Alaska director of law and policy for Trout Unlimited, in a statement released
on Feb. 23.
Support for protection of this habitat has come from
fishermen, hunters, recreational users, and many others who rely on wild
The Tongass is America’s largest national forest, and
produces tens of millions of wild salmon each year. While the majority of
Southeast Alaska salmon and trout streams are healthy, threats from
ill-conceived timber projects, roads, mining and initiatives to privatize large
swaths of the Tongass are still a concern in these productive salmon waters,
Trout Unlimited said in its statement.
The process of amending the Tongass management plan began
with a 2013 memo from US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, directing the
Tongass to transition its forest management program to be more ecologically,
socially and economically sustainable. The agency said an amendment to the plan
was needed to accelerate the transition to a young growth forest management
program, and to do so in a way that preserves a viable timber industry that
provides jobs for residents of Southeast Alaska.
Mark Kaelke, Southeast Alaska project director for TU, said
the intent of the Forest Service to transition is pretty clear and that he is
hopeful that the agency will be responsive to the thoughts of people in the
region on how that should take place.

According to the Forest Service, a final decision approving
the plan amendment is anticipated by mid-December.