Earlier today, July 15th, the U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled its new Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy. The goal of which is, “to help support a diverse economy, enhance community resilience, and conserve natural resources.” Among the goals, this strategy ends old-growth logging in the Tongass National Forest, restores previously altered forests, and initiates a rule making process to reinstate Roadless Rule Protections in the forest. This comes after the Biden administration identified restoring protections in the Tongass as a priority a month or so ago.
As a refresher, the ecological value of the Tongass National Forest cannot be understated:
- Largest remaining intact temperate rainforest in the world and immense carbon sink
- 17,000 miles of clean, undammed creeks, rivers and lakes that provide optimal spawning and rearing conditions for the region’s wild Pacific salmon and trout
- The wild salmon coming from the forest represent approximately 70 percent of all wild salmon harvested from national forests and close to 13 percent of all salmon harvested on the Pacific Rim
- The highest density of brown bears in North America as well as healthy numbers of animals as diverse as Bald eagles, Sitka black-tailed deer, humpback whales, porpoises, and many other species
- Forest-wide, the spiderweb of logging roads has left of legacy of more than 1,100 culverts that fail to meet state or federal standards for fish migration and impede access to nearly 250 miles of salmon and trout stream
- In 2020, President Trump removed roadless rule protections from the forest, opening the area to logging and other industrial activities.
“We look forward to meaningful consultation with Tribal governments and Alaska Native corporations, and engaging with local communities, partners, and the State to prioritize management and investments in the region that reflect a holistic approach to the diverse values present in the region,” said Secretary Vilsack. “This approach will help us chart the path to long-term economic opportunities that are sustainable and reflect Southeast Alaska’s rich cultural heritage and magnificent natural resources.” The strategy includes a $25 million investment to promote sustainable economic opportunities.
“The real value of the Tongass is in its abundant fish and wildlife, its cultural resources, and in its beautiful scenery and wild landscapes,” said Austin Williams, Trout Unlimited’s Alaska director of law and policy. “This announcement will help ensure these values remain long into the future, that we are investing where we see the greatest return, and that management of the Tongass supports the region’s economic mainstays of fishing and tourism.”
For decades now, the Tongass has been a political football–going back and forth whenever the White House flips. Hopefully, this action today can stabilize the Tongass’ future and protect the forest’s remarkable ecosystems–and save some salmon and trout for when you make it up there!