Often in the world of conservation advocacy, we’re tasked with stopping something harmful to public lands and our outdoor heritage. So it’s refreshing when there is a chance to commend a federal land management agency for recognizing the value of productive watersheds and propose ways to better protect them.
Right now, you can register your support for the U.S. Forest Service’s proposed amendment to the Tongass National Forest land management plan.
The Tongass is America’s largest national forest, encompassing nearly 17 million acres of wild country in the panhandle of Southeast Alaska. Think mountains rising virtually from the shoreline, stands of spruce and cedar that represent the largest remaining stands of temperate rainforest on earth, glaciers, islands, fjords and inlets. This is the famed Inside Passage – that narrow sliver of land and water that stretches from Ketchikan in the south to Yakutat in the north. In between, are places like Misty Fjords and Glacier Bay National Parks & Preserves, Admiralty Island National Monument, Baranof and Chichigof Islands, and 17,000 miles of clean, undammed creeks, rivers, and lakes.
Well over a million tourists visit Southeast Alaska annually, many arriving on the cruise ships that ply these cold waters. Visitors come to see humpback whales, orcas, seals and sea lions, puffins and other sea birds. Anglers can catch massive halibut and salmon in the saltwater, and cast to steelhead and trout in freshwater. Hunters pursue brown and black bear, Sitka black tail deer, and mountain goat from the tidewater edge to high mountain crags.
The Tongass has a history of timber harvest that at one time saw large swaths of forest clear cut. Over the decades, timber economics have changed and the region has become less dependent upon the logging industry and more reliant upon commercial fishing and the growing tourism industry. The U.S. Forest Service assembled the Tongass Advisory Council to address the need to update the management plan for the Tongass. This 15-member group included interests as diverse as conservation groups, commercial fishing interests, tourism, and the timber industry. Remarkably, this group unanimously recommended that the Tongass 77 watersheds be given higher levels of protection than they currently enjoy. The Tongass 77 represent some of the most valuable fish-producing watersheds in the entire forest.
The U.S. Forest Service is accepting comments until February 22, 2016 on the Tongass Land Management Plan Amendment. The Forest Service incorporated the recommendation from the Tongass Advisory Council that the Tongass 77 be protected from harmful future development and that the management priorities for these watersheds focus on fish production and wildlife habitat. Take a moment today and support the Tongass 77 in an official comment to the USFS.