Panel recommends Tongass 77 be off-limits to old-growth logging

(Photo courtesy of Mark Kaelke)

After nine months of meetings, a federally-appointed panel charged with reviewing timber management on Alaska’s Tongass National Forest has released a set of recommendations that include some significant conservation gains.

The Tongass Advisory Committee concluded that the Forest Service should stop planning large old-growth timber sales within five years. Comprised of 15 members from the timber industry, the conservation and Alaska Native communities, government, and fishing industry, the committee also concluded that old-growth logging of the Tongass rainforest should cease no later than 15 years from the recommendations being adopted.

Among its other recommendations, the committee also agreed that no old-growth logging should occur within the Tongass 77 watersheds. These watersheds include nearly 2 million-acres of high-value salmon and trout habitat currently open to development activities such as logging and road building. For the past several years, Trout Unlimited has advocated for permanent congressional protection of the Tongass 77 because of their biological importance for fish production.

(Photo courtesy of Paul Hennon)

In addition to the Tongass 77 being off-limits to old-growth harvesting, the committee also recommended that no such logging take place within roadless areas or conservation priority areas identified by Audubon Alaska and The Nature Conservancy.

To speed the process of transitioning the timber industry away from harvesting rare, ancient trees, the committee recommended that the Forest Service make more young growth available for logging. Various current standards and guidelines will need to be adjusted to make that happen, including management of young growth in places like beach buffers and scenic areas.

“We’re encouraged the committee recognized the importance of protecting our top salmon watersheds including the Tongass 77. Ultimately, a lot of work remains and it will be up to the Forest Service to adopt a plan that protects important intact watersheds while restoring those affected by past development. We look forward to working with the Forest Service and other stakeholders to see that the Tongass transition occurs in a timely fashion and ensure that Tongass 77 watersheds are afforded the highest degree of administrative protections possible,” said Austin Williams, Trout Unlimited’s Alaska director of law and policy.  


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