Designating land as Wilderness is the ultimate step to ensuring its protection in the long-term. Wilderness designation protects critical habitat from mining, logging, and development while still allowing people to use the land for hunting, fishing, subsistence gathering, recreating, and even making a living from guiding and operating tours.
Wilderness was integral to SCS's formation and we've maintained that commitment to Wilderness ever since. You can see the whole story of SCS's formation in the short documentary Echoes of the Tongass. But the short story is that in the 1960s large, industrial pulp mills were clear-cutting huge swaths of the Tongass with no end in sight. A small group formed in Sitka to fight the rampant logging surrounding their home. They saw the recent passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964 as a way for them to protect at least some of the Tongass. They drafted a proposal to designate the western third of Chichagof Island as Wilderness because of its diverse habitats, intact old-growth forests, and pristine wildlife habitats. It took 13 years of effort, but in 1980, the West Chichagof Wilderness became the first citizen initiated wilderness in Alaska.
Through the politics of the designation process, the extractive interest groups for the timber and mining lobby managed to carve large sections of some of the best habitat out of the designated land. Some of those excluded parcels like Ushk Bay and Poison Cove are currently being managed for logging. As the Forest Service puts it, these areas are managed for "Intense Development" which means they "Manage the area for industrial wood production…and maximum long-term timber production."
These areas were excluded because they are the best, most iconic old-growth rainforests in the world and provide habitat for important species like the coastal brown bear, Sitka deer, and pacific salmon. Unfortunately, that also means that they are the areas where clear-cut logging is cheapest and easiest.
But, since the 60s, the pulp mills have closed their doors. Nowadays, the timber industry only employs about 200 jobs. Our economy in Southeast Alaska has shifted to tourism and fishing which employ 10,200 and 8,000 jobs and contribute almost $2 Billion to the economy annually. Wilderness designation directly benefits tourism and fishing because it preserves both the habitat, which salmon need for spawning, and viewsheds the tourists flock to Alaska to see.
This year the Wilderness Act is 50 years old and we think it is a perfect time to finish the job our founders began almost a half century ago to designate ALL of West Chichagof as Wilderness. Please join us by sending a note of your support to our senators using the form below.