From the 1950s to the early 2000s, management of the Tongass National Forest was driven by boom and bust mentality that drove years of large scale, old growth clearcut logging, leaving deep scars on the landscapes and within the communities around it. However, this conflict is only one part of the story in Southeast Alaska. At the local and regional level, Alaskans have been working together, across identities and party lines, to achieve the best outcomes for the forest and surrounding communities. In contrast to the past that defined this region, the Sitka Conservation Society works to ensure that management of our largest national forest is based on sustainable and regenerative approaches that benefit communities, ecosystem processes, and our collective ability to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change - rather than supporting a select few businesses or economic sectors.

Our work on Tongass management includes supporting young-growth timber harvest and utilization, restoring previously damaged fish and wildlife habitat, protection of cultural use wood for future generations, support of small-scale tourism and recreation investments by the Forest Service, and supporting the development of alternative economic ventures that rely on the diversity of services and opportunities offered by the Tongass. We have cultivated a broad coalition to invest in a sustainable future for our region with Forest Service agency staff and through the Sustainable Southeast Partnership.

The Tongass National Forest. Photo by Bethany Goodrich.

In 2021, the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy was announced by the United States Department of Agriculture, the preeminent land manager in the region, to help support a diverse economy, enhance community resilience, and conserve Southeast Alaska’s natural resources. This announcement represented a significant shift in management priorities towards sustainability, implementing what SCS, Tribal governments, municipalities, local businesses, and broad swaths of Southeast Alaskans, have been advocating for. The Sitka Conservation Society works with the USDA and partners across Southeast Alaska to develop and implement this new paradigm to show how the Tongass National Forest – a landscape once known for the most entrenched environmental conflict in the nation - can be the example of how public lands, environmental conservation, and community development can be done right and celebrated as a global success story.

The Klawock Indigenous Steward Forest Partnership. Photo by Lee House.

The Tongass National Forest is the world’s last intact temperate rainforest and our nation’s largest national forest. The Tongass contains old-growth forests that are integral as a natural climate solution, and are intricately connected to the health of our salmon watersheds. These lands and waters provide more long-term value, economically and culturally, than what can be extracted from unsustainable old-growth logging practices – and as such, they must be managed with a long-term perspective. 

This decision by the USDA underscores how important the Tongass is as a globally-significant carbon sink, and recognizes the input from Tribes, municipalities, fishermen, tourism operators, small-scale wood workers, and local community members who have spent years mobilizing mobilized to advocate for intact watersheds, old growth forests, and sustainable development here in Southeast Alaska.

Kake Alaska Youth Stewards. Photo by Lee House.