Opinion: Trump and the U.S. Forest Service undermine the truth, putting Alaskan ways of life at risk
Photo by Wild Agency.
The Trump administration has ignored scientific truth from the beginning of his presidency, and at dire cost. Our governments late and lax response to the global pandemic has contributed to the deaths of over 200,000 Americans, and continues to put millions more at risk. This blatant disregard and open disdain for scientific truth has worked greatly in his self-interest, and with the election around the corner, he continues to stoke the flames of his campaign at the detriment of the citizens he claims to fight for. Most recently, along with the U.S. Forest Service, Trump set his sights on the Tongass National Forest.
At nearly 17 million acres, the Tongass is the largest national forest in America, and acts as a natural carbon filter equivalent to removing 650,000 cars off of the road annually. It is home to approximately 70,000 people in 32 different communities, including nineteen federally recognized tribes. The Tongass is vital to fighting climate change and essential to the Alaskans who live there, and at the order of the Trump administration, the Forest Service has just undone environmental protections that have protected the land for nearly 20 years.
The 2001 Roadless Rule virtually ended all logging and road building\reconstruction in over 58 million acres of undeveloped national forest land. These protections were met with massive public support and involvement nationwide, and Alaskans made their voices heard as well, sending in over 1.6 million letters on the issue. Contrarily, the results of the U.S. Forest Service’s most recent Environmental Impact Statement for the Alaska Roadless Rule lazily presents dishonest and misleading results, which have allowed them to exempt the Tongass from further protections, opening the door to logging and mining industries. Sen. Dan Sullivan and the Forest Service claim these industries will bring economic revitalization to the Alaskan economy, when in reality fishing and tourism are the economic powerhouses of the Southeast region. They provide good-paying, sustainable long-term jobs, supporting a combined $2 billion dollar economic impact, while timber and mining industries have proven themselves as sinkholes for taxpayer money and negative for the natural environment.
Trump’s contempt for scientific data has cost Americans greatly, and we may lose an irreplaceable landscape and carbon sink because of it. We as citizens deserve proper and honest representation that is responsive to our concerns. The inspiring work of Alaskans to continue to protect the Tongass National Forest represents the importance of Americans to assert ourselves and protect our own common interests. The actions of the Forest Service and the Trump administration aim to make these efforts feel futile and discourage people from asserting their concerns, but we all have a say and can make our voice heard. Please get out and vote to protect the treasures that truly do make our country great.
Noah Hospodarsky lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Fishermen in Redoubt Bay. Photo by Ellie Handler
Boats bobbed under a blue sky in Redoubt Bay. Beneath the boats, thousands of sockeye salmon had congregated to fight their way up the rushing outflows of Redoubt Lake, Kunaa Shak Áayi. It’s a convenient spot for fishermen from Sitka, who only need to take a 12-mile boat ride to dipnet and snag them.
Salmon and other wild foods are major parts of Alaskan diets. In rural Southeast Alaska, each person harvests an average of over 100 pounds of fish every year. On public lands and waters, this harvest of fish and wildlife is supported through the Federal Subsistence Management Program, established for rural Alaskans by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) in 1980.
Sockeye salmon filets at Redoubt. Photo by Lione Clare
Redoubt Lake is home to one of the largest subsistence sockeye fisheries in Southeast Alaska. Sitkans catch up to 70% of their subsistence sockeye at Redoubt. “It’s a hugely important subsistence fishery,” said Chris Leeseberg, fisheries and wildlife biologist for the Sitka Ranger District of the Tongass National Forest.
The fishery hasn’t always been managed well. The run suffered from overfishing during the 1800s and 1900s, and the fishery collapsed. In the 1980s, the Tongass National Forest and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game began a partnership to manage the run. For nearly 40 years now, the Sitka Ranger District has monitored the run to inform the State’s catch limits.
“By monitoring, it allows for better management of subsistence, sport, and commercial harvest,” Leeseberg said.
A dipnetter at Redoubt Lake. Photo by Lione Clare
During a low return, the State might reduce catch limits or even close the fishery for the year. This happened several years in the 1980s, when fewer than 10,000 fish made it into the lake.
Conversely, “If the numbers are really good, we can open it up for larger harvest,” Leeseberg said. This happened in both 2018 and 2019. In 2019, the Forest Service counted 60,000 sockeye entering Redoubt Lake. In response to the productivity of the run, the State increased its subsistence catch limits and opened the fishery for commercial harvest.
This monitoring is just one way the Forest Service works to support our subsistence way of life on the Tongass.
As we hunker down during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s natural to feel cooped up, isolated, and nostalgic for “normal” life. These are difficult, uncertain times. At the Sitka Conservation Society, we want to support you in new worlds of living, working, and learning.
That’s why we’ve released The Salmon Forest for free viewing, with everyone from families to globe-trotters to fishermen to daydreamers in mind.
The Salmon Forest celebrates what hasn’t changed during the outbreak: the incredible lands and waters of Southeast Alaska, and the salmon’s return to their home streams.
About the Film
The Salmon Forest is a 30-minute documentary film that explores the connection between wild salmon and life in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States.The film follows Alaskan salmon on their epic migration from the streams of the forest to the ocean and back, revealing the various lives they impact along the way. Pull in a huge catch with commercial fishermen, explore the breathtaking landscapes that draw in millions, watch as a mother bear lunges into a stream to feed her cubs, visit a native Tlingit community to better understand salmon’s cultural significance, and meet the people who work day and night to ensure this public resource is protected for generations to come.
Filmed in stunning high definition, The Salmon Forest highlights one of the last healthy homes for salmon on Earth, and provokes a deeper understanding of this complex and beautiful ecosystem. Ultimately, this film celebrates the unique role public lands play in salmon production and reminds us that proper management is vital to sustain the future of commercial fisheries, subsistence, recreation, and our forests.
This film was made in partnership between Sitka Conservation Society, the U.S. Forest Service, and Wild Agency to share the interdependence of the Tongass National Forest, wild Pacific salmon, and the communities of Southeast Alaska.
Continue the Entertainment!
With parents and families in mind, we’ve made a Fin-Tastic Activity Packet that contains a coloring page and worksheets. Learn more about the life cycle of a salmon, create your own food web, and see how salmon are an important part of the Southeast Alaskan way of life in these activities that are fun for the whole family!Read more
Review of the Forest Service's latest timber sale
Clearcuts spread over a hilly landscape on POW. The proposed Mitkof Island timber project contains more large old clearcuts in an area already heavily logged;
much like this area.
Yesterday, the Forest Service released the Decision Notice for the proposed Mitkof Island timber sale. This Decision Notice outlines the exact details of the project showing the how, the where and the amount of timber to be harvested. Unsurprisingly the Forest Service has chosen the alternative that contains the most volume of timber. The sale was first proposed in February 2013 and was initially billed as the ‘Mitkof Island Small Sales Project’, designed to meet the needs of the local community and small mills. It has since morphed into a textbook large-scale Forest Service timber sale that only goes to further liquidate our limited stock of old-growth forest in one swift cut. The sale does, however, contain progressive elements and demonstrate a more responsible use of old-growth timber in some aspects.
What is proposed?
The alternative selected by the Forest Service will see 28.5 million board feet (MMBF) of timber harvested from 4,177 acres. The timber will come from both old and second growth, with 800 acres of old-growth harvest and 750 acres of young-growth commercial thinning, amounting to 50% removal. Also, included is 1,500 acres of old growth with 95 or 98% retention, this is designed to supplement the microsale program (details below), which is also included, but with live green trees. The selected alternative also includes an additional one-time helicopter harvest that amounts to 13.4 MMBF of old-growth harvest, retaining 66% of the standing trees.
What we like
The project contains a new design component that seeks to compliment and expand upon the microsale program first applied on Prince of Wales (POW) Island. This program offers operators the chance to go out and prospect for dead or downed trees close to the existing road systems. These trees are still very valuable and if suitable ones can be found the Forest Service will draft up a contract and offer them for sale. However, whilst including the original the Mitkof project also includes an evolution of the microsale program to now include green trees whereby almost 1,500 acres will be approved for multiple harvest entries for microsales with either 95 or 98% basal area (aka tree) retention. The allowable harvest per sale would range from an individual green tree through to small openings not exceeding 1.5 acres. This means a unit is open to repeated small harvests until such a time 2 or 5% of the stands original tree area has been removed. It offers flexibility to the mills so they can extract what timber they want and, whilst the unit is open, when they want.
A standing dead spruce is felled to create music wood as part of the microsale program
on POW. This type of low impact harvest and value-added product is the future of the old-
growth timber industry in Southeast Alaska.
What we don’t like
Yet also included in the sale is almost 800 acres of clearcut and very low-retention old-growth harvest, amounting to over 10MMBF. Mitkof Island has already experienced decades of industrial scale logging and yet large areas are slated for clearcut logging. In the sale Environmental Assessment the Forest Service admits, “The total volume slated for ground-based harvest systems may well exceed the capacity of current small sales purchasers.” Therefore, by continuing to offer these large sales, that only one or two mills in the region can process, the USFS is essentially bias towards the needs of these large export based operators. In reality they should be developing policy and incentives to keep profits in Southeast Alaska and not liquidate large tracts of our old-growth assets in a few short years.
Scenes like this industrial scale clearcut on POW need to become a thing of the past, the
negative ecological impacts last for hundred of years. Plus very few mills can process units
of this scale. Those that can export most of the trees un-processed out of region, meaning
Alaskans are missing out on the profits from these ancient and unrenewable trees.
In addition to the clearcuts, the newly announced Decision Notice includes 2,000 acres of un-even aged harvest, where 66% of the trees are left standing. Again, the volume and cost of extracting this timber, via helicopter, only “seeks to meet the need of larger operators within the region.” It seems un-fair to be offering such large volumes of timber that small mills cannot bid on. Furthermore, whilst the selective harvest of this portion is certainly better than clearcuts, the 66% retention has no credible scientific backing as to its effectiveness at retaining old-growth forest function. We hope the Forest Service monitors these stands to assess how successful, or not, they really are.
The Mitkof Island timber sale seems to reflect the current split personality of the Forest Service. On the one hand there is big talk of the need to transit to a young-growth based timber industry. Whilst ensuring wise use of our old-growth forests, promoting the development of a diverse value-added in-situ timber processing economy; not exporting these potential profits elsewhere. Yet it continues to promote and support practices of the past that only temporarily prop-up Southeast Alaska’s timber economy and do not provide it with sure foundations for the future. A federal land-management agency is essentially responsible for the economic development of the Tongass. By definition this is neither its focus nor its authority, but by circumstance it is a major cog in the future and development of the region’s economy. With the appointment of a new Forest Supervisor on the Tongass, Earl Stewart, just announced we can only hope this pandering to the needs of the regions quick cut and export based operators becomes a thing of the past sooner rather than later. Otherwise, there will be no more suitable timber left to support our value-added, small-scale mills that provide more stable, well paid and long-term jobs per board foot of timber cut than traditional large clearcut operations.
Find out more detailed information on the project here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=29099