Alaska Roadless Habitat Conserved, Local Economies Boosted in USDA Plan
Plan now is to add new conservation measures; region will receive $25 million as economic boost
By Katie McKalip / Backcountry Hunters & Anglers / July 15, 2021
Backcountry roadless lands in the Tongass National Forest, a public lands crown jewel in southeast Alaska, will see conservation safeguards restored and new measures put in place under a U.S. Department of Agriculture approach to boost the region’s economy, support local communities and conserve priceless natural resources.
USDA’s Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy will end large-scale old-growth timber sales in the Tongass, focusing management practices instead on restoration, outdoor recreation opportunities and addressing factors such as climate change. It has a strong economic development component, growing collaboration with Tribes and Alaska Native businesses, local stakeholders and other partners to invest $25 million in economic growth and community well-being. USDA also will launch a rulemaking process this summer to consider restoring Roadless Rule protections removed by the previous administration.
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers has consistently supported the need to sustain the remote habitat, robust fish and wildlife populations and unique hunting and fishing opportunities found within the Tongass’s 9.3 million acres of roadless lands, the largest intact temperate rain forest in the world. Today, BHA members and leaders lauded the administration’s action.
“The Tongass’s backcountry roadless lands offer wild adventure, unsurpassed solitude, incomparable fish and wildlife, and irreplaceable hunting and fishing,” said BHA President and CEO Land Tawney. “They also offer enormous economic gains to the people and communities of southeast Alaska. We are grateful, therefore, for the bold step being taken by Secretary Vilsack and the Biden administration to conserve these unique landscapes and implement management practices that will secure the future of these Alaskan public lands and waters, as well as those who rely on them.”
The Tongass National Forest inventoried roadless areas comprise habitat for a unique diversity of sought-after game species, including mountain goats, black-tailed deer and both brown and black bears. The Tongass also encompasses thousands of miles of salmon-rich waterways, legendary among anglers and fundamental to the state’s commercial salmon industry. These valuable resources have been upheld by the Roadless Rule, a collaborative management approach that was adopted following one of the most extensive public engagement campaigns in the history of federal rulemaking.
“Alaskans live here because of the unique lifestyle and incredible opportunities to hunt and fish, and the Tongass has provided these for thousands of years,” said BHA Alaska Chapter Coordinator Jacob Mannix. “Being able to call places like the Tongass our backyard is incredibly valuable. It’s why people from across the world choose to visit Alaska.
“BHA’s Alaska chapter is grateful for the administration’s investment in the lands that sustain those opportunities,” Mannix continued. “The $25 million in federal spending is a huge win for southeast Alaska. We look forward to working with agency partners and Southeast communities to ensure these funds are invested in a diverse economy that has supported and will continue to support incredible hunting and angling opportunities in the Tongass National Forest.”
BHA members from Alaska spoke to the values that anchor the southeast region in their support of the USFS decision
“As a small-scale logger and woodworker, I’d like to thank and recognize the U.S. Forest Service for listening to tribes, city governments, hunters, anglers, commercial fishermen, and the public at large,” said Zach LaPerriere, a BHA member who lives in Sitka. “The local support for ending industrial-scale logging has been overwhelming, and this support crosses all political lines.
“The administration’s announcement charts a new route for protecting the Tongass,” LaPerriere continued, “while also ensuring a better economic future for our nation’s largest national forest.”
“The rhythm of the Tongass is the guide for our lives here in southeast Alaska,” said Sarah Matula, BHA Alaska’s southeast representative and a resident of Douglas. “The different types of harvesting, gathering, hunting and fishing all while experiencing the vastness of the wild Tongass are boundless.”
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