On the day before Halloween, the US Forest Service announced they were going to reduce the already insufficient $1.1 million dollar Wilderness and Recreation budget for the entire Tongass National Forest by over half a million dollars.
This is "budgetary clear-cutting" with the Forest Service already proposing theclosure of 12 cabinsalongside a reduction in the staff positions responsible for maintaining trails, keeping cabins stocked and safe, and processing the permits for guides and tour operators.
Cabin closures and loss of Wilderness and Recreation staff overall signifies a lack of prioritization of the tourism and recreation industries here in the Tongass National Forest. The tourism industry alone racks in$1 Billion annuallywith thousands of visitors coming every year to experience the wilderness of Southeast Alaska.
The Forest Service is not fulfilling its promise of theTongass Transition. The Transition is a framework the agency adopted in 2010 aimed at creating jobs in sectors like recreation and tourism while moving away from Southeast's outdated timber management program. For instance, next year the Forest Service has estimates that just one timber sale will COST taxpayers $15.6 Million (that's over 25 times the entire Wilderness and Rec budget). The Transition (were it to be enacted) would dictate that sustainable and profitable programs like Recreation and Wilderness would take precedence over such wasteful timber projects.
The Forest Service enacted the Transition three years ago. Now we want them to take action to save our recreation and tourism opportunities from these budgetary reductions. We need to support what sustains our livelihoods here in the Tongass rather than reduce them year after year.
Contact Senator Begich and Senator Murkowski. Ask them to encourage the Forest Service to take action on the Tongass Transition by reallocating their budgets to make Wilderness and Recreation a priority and to push for more federal funding for the Forest Service. Email, while important, are not as effective as written letters. If you would like help drafting a letter, contact SCS at [email protected] or call (907) 747-7509.
Over the course of the summer, I had a chance to talk to a huge number of fishermen, but our conversations did not happen just at the harbors, docks, or in Sitka's Pbar. Instead, they occurred on tenders.
Tenders are a very important component of Southeast Alaska's fishing industry and serve fishing boats that are far from their home harbors.
As a community organizer, I saw working on tenders as not only a way to reach out to fishermen about the Tongass Transition during the busy fishing season, but also as a way to get some sort of experience in the lifestyle and hard work that most people in Southeast commit to in order to make their living.
Picture the King salmon opening in July, which is one of the busiest times for salmon trollers and consequently for the tenders. A typical day for tender deckhands begins at 6 or 7 in the morning with greetings from fishermen that have been waiting to sell their fish since 3 am. There is not just one boat waiting to offload, but a line of 5 boats with more lingering close by. The hydraulics are turned on, the crane is in motion, and bags of fish are hauled one at a time from the fishermen's boat to a tray on the tender where the deckhands sort the fish for quality and weight.
With troll caught Coho aboard, deckhands of the Ginny C and myself removed the ice from salmon bellies, weighed the fish, placed them in totes, and then stuffed their bellies again with ice.After working on their feet for hours, moving around totes of around 1000 pounds of fish and ice, breaking apart new totes of ice with metal shovels, tossing around 12 pound fish with sore muscles and wrists, stuffing salmon bellies with ice, and then scrubbing the whole operation down with bleach, Joy soap, and water, the deckhands yawn themselves to bed around 2 am, quite possibly still covered in fish slime. Then they will sleep for4 or 5 hours, wake up, and do it all over again.
The Shoreline in Pelican, AK has been a woman-run operation for decades, and I was fortunate to join them for a few days and share in their hard, hard work, which helps our fishermen keep fishing.
Stay tuned! I will be posting a blog piece focused on the advocacy work I did on tenders entitled "You slay 'um, we weigh 'um": a mix of tendering and Tongass Transition advocacy in Southeast Take Two.A big thank you to KaiLea Wallin who coined the two slogans I have used as titles for these blog pieces.
SCS's short documentary Restoring America's Salmon Forest was selected to show at the Alaska Forum on the Environment Film Festival on Friday, February 8, 2013 in Anchorage. The film focuses on a multi-agency effort to increase salmon returns on the Sitkoh River in Southeast Alaska's Chichagof Island, by improving the spawning and rearing habitat and redirecting a river that was heavily damaged by logging operations in the 1970s.
In the heyday of the Southeast Alaska timber industry, little regard was paid to the needs of salmon. Streams were frequently blocked and diverted, with streams in 70 major watersheds remaining that way decades later. Salmon surpassed timber in economic importance in Southeast Alaska more than two decades ago, but only in the last few years has the Forest Service finally made a serious effort to repair damaged streams. Currently over 7,000 jobs in Southeast Alaska are tied to the fishing industry, compared to about 200 in the timber industry. The Forest Service spends about three times as much on timber related projects as fisheries and restoration projects each year on the Tongass.
While salmon are responsible for 10 times as many jobs in Southeast Alaska as timber, and are also an important food source and a critical part of our cultural identity, the Forest Service still puts timber over salmon in its budget priorities. Recent Forest Service budgets have dedicated in the range of $22 million a year to timber and road building, compared to less than $2 million a year to restoring salmon streams damaged by past logging, despite a $100 million backlog of restoration projects.
Logging damages watersheds by diverting streams, blocking fish passage, and eliminating crucial spawning and rearing habitat structures. Restoration increases salmon returns by removing debris, redirecting streams, stabilizing banks to prevent erosion, and even thinning dense second-growth forest. We believe it simply makes sense to go back and repair habitat if you are responsible for its damage.