New direction for Tongass will help develop businesses, sustainable economy
Southeast Alaska is a vibrant place – culturally, ecologically and economically. The Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples have been the stewards of this incredible place since time immemorial, a place where we work and are at home. To ensure a bright future for the South East today, we and all who depend on the region must do our part to support healthy waters, forests, economies and communities.
One thing that makes the Southeast special is the way our economy relies on the health and productivity of the surrounding Tongass National Forest and other lands. About 25% of our jobs come from the tourism and seafood industries that depend on the forests and rivers of Southeast Alaska.
In July, the United States Department of Agriculture issued a directive to restore the no-road rule in Alaska, end large-scale ancient logging in the Tongass, and refocus on projects that promote restoration, recreation and resilience, making new investments in local communities and sustainability, and including communities and tribal leaders in future forest management decisions.
Our businesses and others like us have enthusiastically endorsed this decision as an important step in the right direction for the South East. As leaders in the tourism and seafood industry, we want to conserve Tongass not only for ecological reasons, but also because we depend on the stunning beauty and productivity of the land and waters of the region to operate our businesses. Sustainable fishing and tourism in the South East will not be possible if we do not protect this habitat and tackle climate change. The new USDA guideline is a critical step.
Almost a million people travel to the region each year, and around 70,000 people are already there – living, recreating and making a living in 32 communities in and around Tongass. The tourism and seafood industries are the two main private sector economies for Southeastern communities. The regional seafood industry supports 8% of jobs in the region and 10% of all income, while the visitor industry contributes around 18% of jobs and 12% of income. Seven of the country’s top 100 fishing harbors by value are located in Southeast Alaska.
Because the economy of the South East – not to mention our own businesses – relies on the health of Tongass, we are at the forefront of the results of poor land management decisions and climate change. The past five years rank among the five warmest on record for the planet, according to a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Our oceans and rivers are changing due to the impacts of climate change. Warming ocean temperatures and departures of coastal currents are affecting the marine environment and the fisheries they support by changing accessible fishing areas and increasing harvest uncertainty in the commercial fishing industry. The snowpack and glacier-fed rivers are becoming increasingly dependent on precipitation as climate change affects summer stream flows and increases stream temperatures, threatening salmon habitats. Since the old and mature trees in this forest store more carbon than any other contiguous forest ecosystem in the United States, the need to protect the Tongass is quickly becoming a global priority.
Now is the time to chart a new course for the future of the Southeast and the USDA directive will help us get there. The new direction helps pave the way for a future where the imperative to combat climate change, protect and restore ecological integrity, grow our economy and strengthen communities is compatible and not incompatible.
We are excited about this new direction and ready to do our part to develop the businesses that are part of a sustainable economy and future in the South East.
â¢ Dan Blanchard, CEO, Captain, Uncruise (Juneau); Marsh Skeele, Vice President, Fisherman, Sitka Salmon Shares (Sitka,); Dustin and Katie Craney, owners, Sockeye Cycle Co. (Haines and Skagway); Mike and Sally Trotter, owners, Branof Wilderness Lodge and Beyond Boundaries Expeditions (Sitka); Eric Grundberg and Malena Marvin, Schoolhouse Fish Co. (Petersburg).