The Tongass National Forest’s origins date to 1902 when President Theodore Roosevelt, an avid hunter and naturalist, issued a proclamation declaring it the Alexander Archipelago Forest Reserve. Five years later, Roosevelt signed another proclamation, creating a separate Tongass National Forest. Both areas were combined officially combined on July 1, 1908. An additional proclamation, signed in 1909, added more Southeast lands and islands, bringing the total area of the Tongass National Forest to what it is today: 16. 8 million acres.
In the late 1880s, less than a dozen saw mills operated in Southeast Alaska. Until the 1950s, most of the logging that occurred in the Tongass was small-scale. But in 1954, a large pulp mill in Ketchikan opened with a Forest Service contract to supply it with 50 years of Tongass timber. The Ketchikan Pulp Company obtained the right to log approximately 8.25 billion board feet of timber on the north half of Prince of Wales Island and the northwest portion of Revillagigedo Island, according to the Alaska Division of Economic Development. A second big pulp mill opened in Sitka in 1959. Like the Ketchikan mill, the Alaska Lumber and Pulp Co. mill in Sitka received a 50-year contract from the Forest Service, committing 5.25 billion board feet of Tongass timber.
The massive scale of logging on the Tongass that took place from the 1950s until the mills closed in the 1990s due to changing market conditions and other factors resulted in numerous lawsuits from environmental groups, sportsmen and others concerned about impacts on fish and wildlife. The Tongass came to be known as a place of seemingly endless litigation and bitter conflict. But in May 2010, the Forest Service announced a major course correction. The agency pledged to no longer focus on old-growth logging in roadless areas but rather to prioritize second-growth management, fisheries, tourism, aquaculture and other emerging and renewable industries. Trout Unlimited and other sportsmen’s groups hailed the announcement and have been working with the Forest Service to aid its transition and to make fish habitat conservation and watershed restoration a priority. Read more about TU’s work in the Tongass.