Alaskan fishermen tell government to focus on salmon, not logging

Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com
March 12, 2012



Tongass temperate rainforest.
Tongass temperate rainforest. Photo of Southeast Alaska, courtesy of BigStock.

Alaskan fishermen and tour operators visited Washington D.C. last week to urge the federal government to shift the focus from logging to conservation in the Tongass rainforest. Local Alaskans along with NGOs Trout Unlimited, Alaska Program, and Sitka Conservation Society, made the case that conservation, including the restoration of fish habitat, was a far better strategy for the local economy and jobs than logging. The Tongass rainforest is currently the subject of a controversial logging proposal by the government for the indigenous-owned company, Sealaska.

"Salmon and trout alone are a billion-dollar industry in Southeast Alaska that sustains more than 7,000 jobs either directly or indirectly. And yet the Forest Service budget remains squarely focused on timber and road building. It doesn’t make sense given the enormous value of fisheries in the region," Sheila Peterson, a Juneau commercial fisherman and co-owner of a direct marketing seafood business, said in a statement.

Last year commercial fishermen in the region took in almost 74 million salmon worth $203 million. Sports fishing is just as important: according to Trout Unlimited, sport fishing supports over 2,000 jobs in the region and brings in hundreds-of-millions of dollars. Nearly a quarter of Alaska's total salmon catch comes from the Tongass. But, according to those visiting D.C., the government is still not seeing the salmon through the trees.

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS), which manages the 17 million acre temperate rainforest, spends 16 times more on logging than fish protection. The USFS budget allocates over $25 million to logging and road construction in the Tongass, and $1.5 million on the restoration of watersheds that have been damaged by decades of large-scale logging and clearcutting. Meanwhile, the USFS has estimated that it will take around $100 million to restore salmon watersheds. Logging currently employs around 200 people in the Tongass.

"Forest Service reports indicate that logging has impacted about 46 percent of salmon watersheds on the Tongass [...] By increasing its investment in watershed restoration, the Forest Service could improve salmon habitat and production, and, in turn, create new jobs and economic opportunities for Southeast Alaska communities," a letter from Dale Kelley, Executive Director of the Alaska Trollers Association, to the U.S. Department of Agriculture reads.

At the same time, locals and activists are fighting a 65,000 acre concession in the Tongass to Sealaska, which is owned by 20,000 members of Native communities, from the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribes. The logging concession is an extension of the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act that compensated native tribes in the area for lost lands, but critics say it could devastate the region and ruin several towns largely dependent on fishing and tourism.

A recent report by Audubon Alaska added to such fears. The report found that current legislation would allow Sealaska to choose the largest, most-ancient trees across the Tongass, despite the fact that old-growth forests are the most biodiverse and store the most carbon. If the legislation is approved, Sealaska could cut 12,000 acres of old-growth forest, sporting trees older than Marco Polo. Already the Tongass has lost nearly all of its old-growth forests to past logging with only around 0.5 percent remaining.

The Tongass is the U.S.'s largest national forest and the world's biggest coastal, temperate rainforest.













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CITATION:
Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (March 12, 2012).

Alaskan fishermen tell government to focus on salmon, not logging.

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