If you’re from Southeast Alaska or have come here on a work or pleasure trip, you know that the Tongass National Forest is a special place. Maybe it’s the jagged fjords and glaciers that speak to you, or the mossy, ancient forest that blankets the thousands of misty islands within the Tongass. Or perhaps it’s the Tongass’ teeming populations of bears, eagles, humpback whales or the copious runs of wild salmon, the species that Alaska writer and cultural anthropologist Richard Nelson calls “the miracle animal.”
Salmon are what biologists call a “keystone species.” They’re critically important to the health of rivers, forests, the ocean, marine and terrestrial animals and, of course, the economies and health of human communities who live nearby. They also provide nutritious food to millions of people worldwide.
Salmon literally feed Southeast Alaska. After salmon finish their ocean journeys and they return to their natal streams to spawn and die, their bodies fertilize the water and soil. Salmon carcasses, transported by bears, eagles and other animals, bring nutrients to the forest, which in turn, provides cover and safety to young salmon.
“So here’s this fish that teaches us how ecology works, that teaches us how life works, that shows us how one living thing is never separate from all other living things,” Nelson says.
Forest Service fisheries biologist Ron Medel says that the health of salmon runs are a measure of how well or poorly people have treated the land.
We’re lucky in Southeast Alaska to have tens of millions of healthy, wild salmon return to our region every year. We’re one of the few places left in North America where wild salmon remain abundant. But nearly two million acres of prime salmon habitat in the Tongass, spanning 77 watersheds, face a host of threats. And that’s why Trout Unlimited is seeking permanent protection for these places through Congressional action. It’s a campaign called the Tongass 77, which we hope you will support.
The Tongass 77 is about protecting fish and wildlife for our children and grandchildren.
As Nelson says in this video, Shades of Green, produced by the U.S. Forest Service, the Tongass is an extraordinary place where fish and wildlife are still intact. Wild salmon, bears, mountain goats, eagles, and on and on – they are still plentiful on the Tongass, as long as we do things right.
“We’re able here on the Tongass National Forest to touch the American Earth as it has always been. There are very few places, anyplace, in America or elsewhere in the world where we can do that,” Nelson says.
More of Nelson’s thoughts and reflections about Tongass salmon — the miracle animal, as he calls them — are available on the web site for his radio program, Encounters North.