A group of Alaska and Pacific Northwest residents – mostly commercial and sport fishermen, along with charter operators and guides, -- are speaking out in Washington, D.C., this week on behalf of wild Alaska salmon from the Tongass National Forest. They’re there as part of the Tongass 77 campaign.
The trip, sponsored by Trout Unlimited, aims to educate key Congress and Administration officials about the need to strengthen habitat protections for the best salmon watersheds of the Tongass, a lush, 17-million-acre temperate rainforest teeming with five species of Pacific Salmon, steelhead, rainbow and cutthroat trout, Dolly Varden, and other fish. A world-class destination for anglers, the Tongass boasts more than 17,000 miles of clean, cold salmon-filled waters. Sport fishermen catch close to one million salmon here every year, nearly 60 percent of them Coho.
Less than five-percent of Alaska’s land base, the Tongass is a biological powerhouse: nearly 30-percent of the state’s entire salmon harvest every year originates from freshwater streams, lakes and rivers in this unique forest. Last year, that meant big money. Commercial salmon fishermen – who work in a highly regulated and sustainable industry in Southeast Alaska – landed nearly 37 million fish with a dockside value of $153.2 million. For the second year in a row, Southeast Alaska took the top spot as most lucrative region in Alaska for commercial salmon fishing.
So what does this have to do with the trip to DC this week? Everything. Even though salmon populations are healthy in the Tongass, these fish face threats on a variety of fronts including logging, mining, hydropower proposals and land privatization. And although the Tongass is the nation’s number one salmon-producing forest, 65-percent of salmon habitat there is not protected on the watershed scale and is open to development.
That’s why folks like Juneau fly fishing guide, Matt Boline, are back in D.C. asking Congress to support the Tongass 77 proposal. If enacted into law, the Tongass 77 would permanently conserve at the watershed scale some 1.9 million acres of high-value salmon and trout habitat on the Tongass and make fish and wildlife the highest management priority in these 77 key watersheds.
As Boline told The Drake magazine, "these are mostly intact systems and there are only a handful of streams in the proposal that have been logged at all."
"Ultimately we don't want them to end up like the Columbia. We don't want to see the same mistakes we've made in the Pacific Northwest in terms of having to retroact protections to fix what we've broke,” Boline said.
"The goal is to fix it before we break it."
For more information about the Tongass 77, visit www.americansalmonforest.org