At present, no-harvest buffers of 100 feet minimum are required on all larger Tongass anadromous streams (Class I and II). Additionally, about 35 percent of Tongass salmon and trout habitat is protected at the watershed scale by law from industrial development. These protections are valuable but even more can and should be done to ensure the long-term sustainability of Tongass salmon and trout.
Researchers from the Alaska offices of 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 at the watershed scale. The 77 high-value watersheds they identified, comprising some 1.9 million acres, are currently open to development. Based on their outstanding fish habitat, the highest and best use of these “Tongass 77” watersheds should be for the production of salmon and trout.
Federal legislation to permanently protect the Tongass 77 is necessary to ensure the long-term productivity of these important salmon watersheds. Maintaining natural salmon production and the health and function of fish and wildlife habitat should be the top management priorities. Additionally, by prohibiting commercial logging, new road building and new mining developments within the Tongass 77, we can help ensure Southeast Alaska’s abundant wild salmon return for generations to come and continue to fuel the region’s communities and economy.