As many of you know, southeast Alaska is one of my favorite places in the world, a lot of that sentiment coming from the fact that I lived there when I was young and have continued to visit the area almost every year, at least once or twice. The reason: the Tongass is loaded with salmon, steelhead, dolly varden, and cutthroat trout and it’s a haven for wildlife, including black bears and coastal grizzly bears, mountain goats, Sitka blacktail deer, moose, and waterfowl. In addition, it’s rich in shellfish, meaning you can drop a pot over the side of your boat, let it soak for a few hours while you fish, and likely come back to enough for a great meal of Dungeness or king crab, or sidestripe shrimp or spotted prawns. The Tongass is a rainforest so most days in the area, which stretches from Yakutat south to Ketchikan, anglers encounter cloudy and rainy conditions. But, on those days when the sun breaks through and the sky lifts, there’s no more beautiful place on the planet.
So why am I writing about the Tongass today? For one, because 13 other fly fishing blogs are writing about the same subject today, to help make all of you aware of what could be lost if we don’t have our voices heard. That’s because much of the Tongass remains unprotected from development, including timber and mineral extraction. But, recently, researchers from the Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, and Trout Unlimited, used state-of-the-art GIS and conservation planning software to identify the watersheds they consider the “best of the best” for salmon and trout habitat from the hundreds of Tongass watersheds not currently protected. The 77 high-value watersheds they identified, comprising some 1.8 million acres, are currently open to development. Based on the 77s outstanding fish habitat, these conservation groups are headed to Washington, again, to tell the politicians that the highest and best use of the “Tongass 77″ should be for the production of salmon and trout.
Tim Bristol, director of Trout Unlimited’s Alaska program says, “The Tongass is America’s salmon forest and one of the few places in the world where wild salmon and trout still thrive. Some 65 percent of Tongass salmon and trout habitat,” he added, “is not congressionally protected at the watershed scale and is currently open to development activities that could harm fish. It’s time for Congress to better protect the richest resource of the Tongass: wild salmon.”
In addition to voicing opinion in Washington, protectors of the Tongass have launched a new site dedicated to educating the public about the Tongass, www.americansalmonforest.org This site is very much worth checking out as it offers great information and describes the threats, science and solutions to keeping the Tongass’ best places intact, and it’s wildlife thriving. Got there, check out the words and images, sign on and let your voice be heard—the Tongass is one of the last great places on earth, it provides some of the best fly fishing on the planet, and it’s full-on worth protecting. To keep abreast of these groups’ efforts in Washington check out this press release, http://americansalmonforest.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/FishermensFly-InMarch2012PRfinal.pdf