Managers of the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska have a new draft management plan that is winning praise for its protections of salmon habitat.
The alternative selected for the draft plan by the US Forest Service incorporates Tongass Advisory Committee recommendations to protect certain watersheds known as the “Tongass 77,” watersheds identified by Trout Unlimited as having high priority for protection because of their habitat, fish production and diversity of fish species.
Earl Stewart, supervisor of the 17-million acre forest, said the advisory committee also recommended protection of conservation priority areas identified by The Nature Conservancy and Audubon Alaska. Old growth timber harvests would not be allowed in some of those watersheds, although new growth harvests would be, he said.
The draft plan is online at www.fs.usda.gov/land/tongass
The transition from old growth to new growth harvests of timber would take place over a 16-year period, during which the Forest Service would try to make up to 46 million board feet of timber available annually, with the amount of old-growth timber harvest gradually decreasing, Stewart said.
A final decision on the plan is not expected until December.
Meanwhile the Forest Service is accepting objections to the draft plan only from those who had previously submitted substantive related formal comments.
According to Trout Unlimited, the draft plan would put fisheries and recreation on a more even footing with other industries in the Tongass.
“Commercial fishermen, guides and outfitters, conservationists and sport anglers commend the Forest Service, the Tongass Advisory Committee and the people of Southeast Alaska for recognizing that salmon drive Southeast Alaska’s economy,” said Mark Kaelke, Southeast Alaska project director for Trout Unlimited. “Conserving healthy salmon habitat on the Tongass will help ensure that’s always the case,” he said.