Tongass in Transition

Monumental changes are underway in the Tongass National Forest

In the forest and in the streams, a transition is taking hold in the Tongass.

This is a transition away from a focus on old-growth timber management and toward a focus on the harvest of young growth trees, restoration of forests and streams, while also diversifying economic opportunities and creating jobs in renewable energy, mariculture, fishing and tourism.

“The series of restoration projects now underway in the Tongass illustrates how we can build a more economically sustainable future for the Tongass,” says Norman Cohen, who directs the Conservancy’s programs in Southeast Alaska. “The changes are significant: Local communities have more say about the future of the forests and streams. Forest managers are putting communities first, and they understand the value of fish and wildlife habitat to local people.”

Facts about the Tongass National Forest:

  • 17 million acres

  • 80 percent of Southeast Alaska land base

  • 17,000+ miles of salmon streams

  • produces 30 percent of the U.S. wild salmon harvest

  • historic high timber harvest volume, in 1973: 591 million board feet

  • estimated 2012 timber harvest volume: 35 million board feet

Two of the primary drivers of this transition are stream restoration and the restoration of second-growth forests. In streams, where deep pools and eddies are missing, crews are replacing large woody debris (think big trees) that work in tandem with a river’s hydraulic forces to create refuges for young salmon. In second-growth forests, the Conservancy and partners are thinning forests to bring a healthy understory back to the forest floor:

“The regeneration in Southeast Alaska is prolific,” says Keith Rush, the Conservancy’s conservation forester. “The trees grow so thick, their crowns will intersect each other, which stops sunlight from penetrating to the forest floor.” 

Speaking Up For a Sustainable Future in the Tongass

The Nature Conservancy supports the over-arching goals of the Forest Service’s Transition Framework on the Tongass National Forest. We perceive exciting opportunities for collaborative efforts to provide economic opportunity and jobs to local residents, sustain a timber industry, and transition from timber harvesting in roadless areas and old-growth forests to long-term stewardship contracts and young growth management. We are committed to work with the Forest Service, local communities, and people invested in the Tongass to seek to implement this transition in a way that conserves wild salmon watersheds and wildlife habitat, while sustaining the overall health and productivity of the forest ecosystem and the communities that depend on the Tongass.

See how the Conservancy is advancing this work in an effort to transition into a healthier Tongass forest.


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