A new federal Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy that will end old growth logging in Tongass National Forest by reinstating the Roadless Rule is elating fishermen and drawing fire from the timber industry.
“The Southeast Alaska ecosystem, which holds as its heart and lungs the Tongass National Forest, can be thought of (as) one marvelous SeaBank, rich in natural capital, paying generous annual dividends, and with assets that support local jobs and a sustainable economy,” said Linda Behnken, a veteran commercial harvester and president of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka.
The Tongass provides 95% of the 53 million salmon annually harvested by Southeast Alaska’s commercial salmon fisheries, which are the cornerstone of the sustainable local economy, Behnken said.
The Alaska Forest Association, an industry trade association in Ketchikan, adamantly disagreed with the USDA decision.
“AFA recognizes the immense work undertaken by U.S. Forest Service employees in the Tongass and in Region 10 during the last eight years to move forward with a commitment to supply, preserve and retain the timber industry in the Tongass,” said Tessa Axelson, executive director of AFA, in a statement.
“What a monumental loss for the USFS, the Tongass and Alaska that this work will be set aside,” she said. “Professionals, not politics, should manage the region’s natural resources.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture strategy announced in mid-July mandates the USDA to work with partners and communities in Southeast Alaska and consult with tribes and Alaska Native corporations in a collaborative process to invest $25 million in financial and technical resources in sustainable opportunities for economic growth and community well-being and identify priorities for future investments, the agency said.
In announcing the transition away from old growth logging on July 15, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said his agency looked forward to meaningful consultation with communities, partners, the state, tribal governments and Alaska Native corporations to prioritize management and investments in the region that reflect a holistic approach to the region’s diverse values. The mandate of the collaborative effort is to provide opportunities for recreation, fisheries and the fishing industry, mariculture, renewable energy and sustainable timber management, including or young growth, traditional and customary cultural uses, and carbon sequestration.
The USDA decision to halt old growth logging and road building in the nation’s largest national forest also received kudos also from conservation entities and criticism from Alaska’s congressional delegation.
“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, director of law and policy in Alaska for Trout Unlimited.
The state’s congressional delegation meanwhile cited the USDA decision as a detriment to the economic future of Southeast Alaska.