Another attack on the integrity of the Tongass National Forest is likely imminent. This will occur when Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue makes his decision later this summer on whether to keep the Roadless Rule in place. As you may be aware, the state of Alaska is trying to exempt the Tongass from the 2001 rule, thus weakening many of the protections now guarding the forest. This is despite an overwhelming majority — 96% — of Americans who favor keeping the Roadless Rule in place, according to the recent analysis of more than a quarter million Alaska Roadless Rule public comments analyzed by the Forest Service.
I have lived surrounded by the Tongass for 48 years. During that time, the forest has become a defining part of my life. I am deeply concerned that it be kept for today and for my grandchildren’s future. I’m also concerned that the Roadless Rulemaking process is moving forward while there’s still an active federal investigation by the Inspector General in the works into possible misuse of taxpayer funds.
To me and my family, the Tongass is a place to fish and hunt. For many years, we were commercial fishermen, spending our summers as a family trolling and gillnetting while we explored our region’s hidden bays and islands. The wealth of the Tongass, accessible to all as a national treasure, is stunning and should never be put up for sale. My children through their experiences on the land and water — paddling, hiking, gathering berries — have gained experiences and memories that nothing can erase.
We have become more aware that the health of our salmon fisheries is threatened. In part, their future depends on keeping the spawning habitat undisturbed by clearcut logging. Like almost everyone we know, our family eats salmon — a significant part of our diet — and are concerned about the impact of resource extraction on these fish. But it’s not only not about fish for me. I am an avid birder and delight in the variety of habitats the forest and its waters provide for them. Those of us who love birds have recently been made aware of the loss of more than a quarter of the entire North American bird population over the past 50 years. That’s over 3 billion birds, a significant number of which rely on the Tongass.
I am also deeply concerned about climate change and know that temperate rainforests such as the Tongass are vital to keeping the planet from further degradation. Our forest is a carbon life raft because its ancient trees store at least 8% of the total carbon absorbed by all national forests in the Lower 48. For these reasons — and for the fact that logging no longer plays any important part in the economy of Southeast Alaska, that the number of jobs provided is small and that its products are sent overseas — I am opposed to any rollback of the Roadless Rule.
I could add statistics that illustrate the bad economics of old-growth logging but instead will close by saying that the forest plays a significant part in my spiritual and mental well-being and that of many of my family, friends and acquaintances. Thinking about the Tongass generates both joy and pain. Joy from the indescribable beauty and overflowing abundance of its riches; pain from ever-nagging concern over its future. Joy and pain, woven together, as is inevitable, into love.
I urge you to call Secretary Perdue (202-720-3631) and ask him to select the no-action alternative on the Alaska Roadless Rule. Don’t let him ignore the 96% of us who support the Roadless Rule protections on the Tongass. Challenge him to prove that he is listening to the people who live here and who are nourished and supported by the health of the Tongass National Forest.
• Bonnie Demerjian has been a resident of Kake and Wrangell since 1972 working as a teacher, commercial fisher, writer for the Wrangell Sentinel and author of four books on Southeast Alaska.