Fish-Focused Management and Tongass 77

Photo Courtesy Earl Harper

Photo Courtesy Earl Harper

By Simms Ambassador, Mark Hieronymus

The amendment process for the Tongass Land Management Plan (TLMP) may offer an unprecedented opportunity to increase conservation measures for high-value fish watersheds in the Tongass National Forest (TNF) in Southeast Alaska.

The 15 member Tongass Advisory Committee (TAC), composed of three conservation members, one fisheries member, three members of the general public and eight largely development-focused members, unanimously recommended that high-value fish watersheds of the Tongass 77 proposal should receive higher levels of protection. The TAC was formed to aid in the amendment process of the TLMP, the guiding document for Tongass administration.

TNF leadership will conduct a public process to identify amendments to the Forest Plan. The new Draft Land Management Plan was released November 20thTrout Unlimited Alaska’s  review of this plan revealed that the Forest Service has proposed changes that put fish and other renewable resource values on more even footing with timber for the first time, greatly improving management of fish and wildlife habitat in our largest national forest. A 90-day public comment period is now open, giving the American public the opportunity to tell the Forest Service how important it is to conserve these high-value salmon and trout watersheds.

Photo Courtesy Earl Harper

Photo Courtesy Earl Harper

The Tongass 77 proposal includes 73 watersheds, totaling 1.89 million acres. All of these watersheds are ranked in the top 25% of Tongass watersheds for salmon and trout spawning and rearing habitat, support a diversity of fish species and are substantial contributors to overall salmon harvests. In total, they represent 23% of the identified salmon and trout habitat on the Tongass on only 12% of its land base. They are all in development status in the current Tongass Forest Plan and Trout Unlimited Alaska believes it is time for that to change. For more information on the Tongass 77, visit www.americansalmonforest.org.

The TLMP amendment process offers the public an opportunity to compel the Forest Service to remove these watersheds from development status, thereby ensuring the management focus is centered on the production of fish. Although that would not offer permanent protection of a Congressional action, it would elevate the status of these watersheds and help to ensure fish and fish production are part of the Forest Service’s management priority in these important Tongass watersheds.

Trout Unlimited Alaska encourages you to submit comments on the Forest Plan amendment supporting fish-focused management for the Tongass 77 watersheds. To submit a comment, visit http://www.americansalmonforest.org/take-action.html.