New blog series: Exploring the fish, streams and traditions of the Tongass National Forests

Intro by Paula Dobbyn
A top priority for Trout Unlimited in Alaska is to conserve some of the best salmon and trout watersheds left in North America for our kids and grandkids. Many of these wild places are found within a 17 million acre rain forest in Southeast Alaska. Home to about 70,000 residents, many of them fishermen, tourism operators, government employees, and tribal citizens, the Tongass National Forest is our country’s largest and most unique national forest. And in a new blog series, we’ll take you there.
A stunning archipelago of islands and fjords cloaked by giant hemlock, spruce, and cedar trees, the Tongass attracts about one million visitors a year, including many anglers. People often call the Tongass a “salmon forest” because of the abundant returns of all five species of Pacific salmon –as well as steelhead, cutthroat and Dolly Varden char -- it produces year after year.
Eva Falls in the Tongass National Forest. Photo by Roger Harding
The U.S. Forest Service says about 25 percent of commercially harvested salmon on the Pacific coast, including British Columbia, come from waters of the Tongass National Forest. And about 70 percent of all salmon produced from national forests originate in the Tongass. 
In a tightly regulated fishery, commercial harvesters sustainably catch about 49 million salmon from Tongass waters every year. It’s a $1 billion annual industry, employing about one in 10 Southeast Alaskans. 
Although this West Virginia-sized salmon and trout nursery is generally healthy, the Tongass could use more love over the long-term. Over prior decades, many lush stands of old-growth trees were churned into pulp, harming the land and waterways salmon need to reproduce. Some old-growth logging continues, but the Forest Service is starting to listen to the public and move away from old-growth harvest and road building as its focus in the Tongass. The agency is turning instead toward managing for young growth and supporting key industries like fishing, tourism, and forest restoration.
Tenakee Head within the Tongass National Forest. Photo courtesy of Jed and Joanie McBeen
TU has a proposal, called the Tongass 77, which would greatly aid this long-awaited transition. If enacted, the Tongass 77 recommendations would ensure that these key salmon and trout watersheds, open to development currently, are permanently managed as natural fish factories. 
You can read more about Tongass 77 and get involved here. And in our new blog series, we’ll take you to a selection of these watersheds and share stories of the people and the fish that make these places so special and worth conserving.
In the first blog installment we head to Wrangell, a former sawmill town at the mouth of the Stikine River, one of Southeast Alaska’s major salmon-producing rivers. Wrangell's proximity to the Stikine as well as many other high-quality salmon rivers is proving to be advantageous as the town’s economy shifts from a timber focus to one that’s based around fishing, seafood processing, tourism, and marine services. In the spring of 2014, photographer Bryan Gregson accompanied Wrangell-based outfitter Rick Matney on a journey to a few of the nearby Tongass 77 watersheds in search of steelhead and came back with this story.
Oct. 28 edit: The second installment is now live! Click to read, "Lake Eva: the Gold Standard for Fish Habitat."  
Nov. 9 edit: click here for the third installment: Sitka-area watersheds of the Tongass 77
Nov. 13 edit: Click here for the fourth installment on Upper Tenakee 
Check back for more posts soon.

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