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.
A way to achieve this needed protection of fish production would be federal legislation that places these watersheds into Land Use Designation II (LUD II). This designation was applied through Congressional action to twelve areas of the Tongass through the Tongass Timber Reform Act of 1990. These twelve areas were “chosen for special management because of their critical importance for fish and wildlife habitat and their high value to tourism and recreation.”* Although commercial timber harvest is not permitted in LUD II areas, they are open for traditional gathering, fishing, hunting and recreational use. LUD II areas are also open to wildlife and fish habitat improvement, mineral development, and some hydropower generation opportunities . Designating the “Tongass 77” as LUD II areas would ensure both the wildland character and the extraordinary salmon and trout values of these watersheds are maintained in perpetuity.
* Tongass Timber Reform Act Conference Report