Bristol Bay gets the bulk of this blog's attention, but you best believe that I am paying attention to the goings on down Southeast Alaska in the forests of the Tongass. The Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the country. Its waters are home to abundant salmon runs for all five species of salmon, not to mention dollies, grayling, and some healthy steehlead! If we look at the fate and future of Pacific salmon, the waters of Southeast are another key piece of the puzzle shared with Southwest, AK.
Economically, Southeast Alaska salmon and trout provide an important source of employment and income for thousands of fishermen and fishing business owners. According to a study commissioned by Trout Unlimited, Southeast Alaska salmon and trout in 2007 provided close to 11% of regional jobs and supported almost a $1 billion industry that includes local commercial, sport, hatchery and subsistence fisheries (full study available here). In 2011, Southeast Alaska produced the largest salmon harvest in the state, with fishermen hauling in a total of 73.5 million fish worth in excess of $200 million dollars.
Now, Southeast Alaska is also known for a robust history of logging old growth in the rainforests, that logging has in many spots left salmon waters degraded to varying degrees. In some spots, there are some pretty outstanding examples of stream restoration. But restoration is time and cost intensive. So why not protect key areas to begin with.
In the Tongass, with 17,000 miles of clean, undammed flowing waters, an opportunity exists to protect vital salmon habitat for the future. Leaders working in fisheries ocnservaiton, namely Trout Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy, have identified 77 high-value areas and watersheds, the best of the best, if you will. These areas are the priority for the fate and future of the Southeast's salmon.
“The Tongass is America’s salmon forest and one of the few places in the world where wild salmon and trout still thrive. Some 65 percent of Tongass salmon and trout habitat is not Congressionally protected at the watershed scale, and is currently open to development activities that could harm fish. It’s time for Congress to better protect the richest resource of the Tongass: wild salmon.” (Tim Bristol, Director TU Alaska Program)
The goal, then, is to achieve land designation that would protect these areas through a legislative land use designation. Thanks to the Tongas Timber Reform Act of 1990, there is precident for designating areas of the Tongass as protected - chosen for special management because of their critical importance for fish and wildlife habitat and their high value to tourism and recreation. In the end, the aim is to have these high priority areas designated with similar classification. As is the case in Bristol Bay, your voice matters immensely.
Even if you've never fished in Southeast Alaska, we as anglers thrive on knowing that such special, healthy, and robust places exist. If you have fished there, you have a voice to speak from experience. But all voices matter. So, follow the Link and add your voice to those seeking to ensure that these areas, currently open for development, recieve the protection they deserve. More than anything, check out American Salmon Forest and learn more about the salmon of Souteast, AK. And if you can you should get there and do some fishing!