SE Alaska harvesters want no exemption for Tongass

Over 200 commercial fishermen want roadless rule to stay intact

Commercial fishermen in Southeast Alaska are strongly opposing any exemption to the roadless rule for Tongass National Forest, saying that the region should be managed for fisheries, rather than logging ventures.

More than 200 commercial harvesters signed a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Vicki Christiansen, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, urging protection of salmon spawning grounds critical to the lifestyle and economy of Southeast Alaska.

“Our livelihoods rely on the health of the salmon, and salmon are reliant upon the health of the Tongass National Forest,” the fishermen said in their letter, copies of which were also delivered to Alaska’s congressional delegation in early October. The congressional delegation and Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy support an exemption for the Tongass, contending that the current rule hinders timber harvest, mineral development and energy projects, and that the exemption would benefit the regional economy.

The signers include the likes of Jeff Farvour, a commercial fisherman in Sitka, who said “we need to manage Southeast Alaska for fish habitat, not logging.”

Noting the impact climate change is already having on Alaska’s fisheries, including drought conditions which make it difficult for salmon to return to their natal streams, Farvour asked “Why would anybody support this (exemption to the roadless rule for the Tongass) knowing it’s going to add more challenges?”

A copy of the letter obtained by The Cordova Times notes that one in 10 jobs in Southeast Alaska is in the seafood industry and that the seafood industry contributes 10 percent of all regional employment earnings.

“We are economically invested in the protection of the top salmon-producing watersheds on the Tongass, as well as the health of the forest ecosystem,” the harvesters said. “Industrial-scale logging negatively impacts fish habitat with region-wide effects, and we are concerned about the effects that a new Alaska Roadless Rule could have on our industry and the resource we depend on.”

The fishermen note that salmon populations are already facing many challenges due to climate change, changes in ocean acidification and other ocean conditions, as well as treaty agreements.

“By contrast, the fate of the Alaska Roadless Rule is well within your control,” they said.

The fishermen urged the federal agencies to protect salmon streams from adverse impacts of logging, and for the Forest Service to work harder to protect and restore productively of all anadromous waters in Southeast Alaska.

“We live in the communities that we fish out of, and we are invested in the economic, social and ecological prosperity of these communities,” they said. “We need to strengthen and protect the Tongass National Forest in order for it to keep producing salmon for local economics, our families, our communities and the next generation of fishermen.”

A fact sheet compiled by the U.S. Forest Service notes that Tongass fisheries biologists have recorded 14,873 miles of anadromous rivers and streams and 123,173 acres of lakes and ponds that support and produce wild salmon in the forest. According to that document, salmon-derived nitrogen has been found in trees more than 500 yards away from salmon streams, particularly in areas where bears feed on salmon and more than 50 species of animals feed on salmon when they return to spawn in freshwater.

The document also notes that people in Southeast Alaska have been fed by wild salmon for over 9,000 years, and that 96 percent of Alaskans surveyed said that salmon are essential to the Alaska way of life.

Forest Service officials are currently in the process of scheduling public meetings and subsistence hearings, which will be made available on the Alaska Roadless Rule project website, fs.usda.gov/roadmain/roadless/alaskaroadlessrule

Written comments may be submitted on the web at fs.usda.gov/project/?project=54511, via email at akroadlessrule@fs.fed.us, in the mail to USDA Forest Service, ATTN: Alaska Roadless Rule, P.O. Box 21628, Juneau, Alaska, 99802, by fax at 907-586-7852, or in person at the Forest Service, 709 W. 9th St., Room 535B, Juneau.