Scientists want protections for salmon in Tongass

JUNEAU, Alaska — More than 200 scientists have signed onto a letter asking Congress to enact legislation protecting 1.9 million acres of salmon habitat in this country’s largest national forest.

The proposal is billed at the “Tongass 77,” referring to the number of watersheds in the Tongass National Forest that would be protected from activities like logging, mine development and road-building. There is currently no such bill pending in Congress but the roughly 230 scientists who signed the letter, dated Monday, as well as other activists, hope the plan will be picked up and sponsored as a bill.

John Schoen, science adviser emeritus for Audubon Alaska and a former state Fish and Game biologist, told reporters via conference call that there are administrative actions the U.S. Forest Service could take but those are temporary and the preference instead is to have a long-term solution. Supporters of the plan also see watershed-wide protections – rather than buffer zones or restrictions near streams or stream segments – as more meaningful.

Heather Hardcastle, commercial fisheries outreach coordinator with Trout Unlimited in Alaska, said the goal behind the plan is not to “lock up” any more of the Tongass from other activities but to secure a designation for the lands that is “pro-fish and wildlife.”

The Tongass covers much of southeast Alaska and is billed as the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world. According to the Forest Service, nearly 80 percent of the commercial salmon harvested from the region annually comes from the Tongass, and the forest produces on average 28 percent of Alaska’s annual commercial salmon catch.

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