What happens to 18 million acres of prime temperate rainforest in Southeast Alaska when the United States government and the Alaskan legislature starts pushing laws through that allow roads to be built along prime Salmon habitat? And what happens when mining and logging are allowed to run rampant in a beautiful forest that is the location of the highest density of brown bears in North America?
You guessed it, we get another horrible debacle that would mirror if not exceed the damage that the Pebble Mine would. If we don’t work to protect the Tongass this is what we will get in the future.
The Tongass is a rainforest filled with massive spruce, hemlocks, Alaskan yellow cedar, and copious amounts of western red cedar. You can walk through the Tongass and find more water than any man or woman would know what to do with. With over 40,000 miles of streams and upwards of 20,000 lakes and ponds you could attempt to explore every possible inch of water and would probably never see even half of the water that is available.
In North America, our salmon fisheries are dwindling at an alarming rate and the opportunities to explore virtually untouched tracts of land are disappearing at the same terrifying rate. But even as this is occurring, the Tongass is a ray of sunshine and hope. With all five species of North American salmon located in an area the size of West Virginia and also known healthy populations of trout. In one recent report over 70% of all the wild salmon harvested from national forests on the West coast came from the Tongass. That harvest creates over $1 billion in revenue for a region that uses the salmon as not just a regional food source and export but also for sport and tourism. It also provides approximately 7300 jobs directly or indirectly through the fishing industry and its related branches.
Common threats that are found in unprotected areas like the Tongass include but are not limited to inappropriate logging regulations, unregulated mining practices, and out of control damming projects that would destroy wild habitat used by fish for spawning. And the state of Alaska is doing their best to allow these things to happen to the Tongass even as you read this.
Luckily, there are groups in Alaska and outside of Alaska who are keeping a keen eye on these potential threats. Those include Trout Unlimited and the Tongass 77 who are fighting to create a wave of awareness for the potential destruction of an irreplaceable piece of forest that belongs to us all. Trout Unlimited has commissioned a study proving that the Tongass is one of those places that needs to be kept the way it is and not desecrated by the “big guys”. It also proved how important the area is to the residents to keep their economy pumping along. If the Tongass 77 succeeds over 1.8 million acres of watershed acreage will be protected for you and I. And if that happens, I will be making the ultimate pilgrimage to the Tongass for some unprecedented Tenkara angling.
In one survey, 96% of those asked in 2011 said that salmon were essential to their way of life. I don’t know about you, but that speaks pretty loudly to me about why this area needs to be protected.
In a time in history when we have let our environment fall by the proverbial wayside and in a time when our connection with the outdoors has dwindled to almost nothing the Tongass is that spot that can return us to what we should fight to keep. I might not be Alaskan but I am a Tenkara angler from Colorado who would love to wet a line in a piece of water that I have never seen and that is so special to the citizens of a state as great as Alaska.
I hope that we can all band together and show the powers that be that the people will not stand for our wilds to be destroyed simply for the love of money. I won’t plant my butt on a bench and watch from the sidelines and I pray that you will join me and do the same thing.
The above is my entry into the TU Tongass Blogger Tour 2013 Essay Contest. I hope you like it.