Wednesday, February 24, 2016

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 salmon.

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.

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