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How You Can Help Protect the World’s Largest Temperate Rainforest

An interview with Fisherman and Understory Film Producer Elsa Sebastian

    Photo by Understory Director Colin Arisman of Wild Confluence Media

    The Tongass National Forest is the single largest intact temperate rainforest on the planet. It absorbs more carbon than any other national forest. In fact, some scientists have described the Tongass as the “lungs of the country.”

    Many Alaskans depend on the Tongass for food as part of a subsistence lifestyle. This forest provides invaluable wild salmon spawning habitats on which our jobs, food security, and way of life depends. 

    Healthy salmon streams in the Tongass grow healthy salmon. Those fish, and the ecosystems that they support, allow us to catch and share nutritious seafood with people like you across the country. 

    One person who is advocating for Roadless Rule protections for the Tongass is Elsa Sebastian, an activist, fisherman, and the producer of the documentary film Understory. Elsa and I spoke recently about the Roadless Rule and the impact of logging on salmon in the Tongass.

    What is the Roadless Rule?

    The Roadless Rule was established in 2001 to protect national forests from road construction and large-scale industrial logging.

    ES: “These protections we had for 9 million acres of the Tongass that have been in place for the last 20 years were just undone. What’s more, the U.S. Forest Service under the Trump administration ignored the majority of public comment. 96% of people who engaged in that process were in favor of keeping the Roadless Rule intact, but the U.S. Forest Service sided with industrial logging and undid those protections. So right now we're at the stage where we're trying to restore those protections. The public comment period is open until January 24, 2022.

    Why is it important?

    ES: “I think what's important about this comment period is if we turn out in large enough numbers to voice our support for protecting the Tongass and for taking care of the salmon watersheds then future administration's won't try to undo these protections. We want to show that there are political stakes for politicians who want to undo protections for the Tongass National Forest.”

    How does it impact me?

    ES: “Everyone in the Salmon Shares community has a really special connection to the Tongass. It can be hard for folks who are writing public comments for a wild place that they're not from or maybe they haven't been able to visit before, because there's a desire to express your relationship to the wild place. So for Salmon Shares customers being able to say, ‘I eat salmon that are from the Tongass. 80% of the salmon that are commercially harvested in Alaska are spawning in these watersheds.’ That's a powerful way to assert your political will.”

    What can I do to help?

    The public comment period for restoring Roadless Rule protections for 9 million acres of the Tongass is open until January 24th, 2022!

    Submit your comment here.

    Need help writing your comment? Here are few quotes from Elsa to get started:

    1. Logging ruins salmon spawning habitat“Logging causes erosion, and erosion will make what is otherwise a pristine salmon spawning watershed silty and salmon don't want to spawn in silty mud.”
    2. Sustainable salmon runs need the Tongass“In an ancient rainforest, the big trees, the understory vegetation, all those dense layers of moss and soil that those forests have, creates a really profound cooling effect on the local ecosystem. When rainwater runs through an ancient forest, it's actually cooled on its way to the stream or river, but if you have a clear cut on a hillside by a spawning stream, the rain is going to hit the clear cut and actually warm as it makes its way to the stream. Salmon can't spawn if the waters are too warm. So especially in an era of climate change, it's even more important than before to make sure that we're taking care of the entire watershed.” 3. Commercial fishermen need the Tongass (and it needs them)“If we lost salmon, we would lose our identity, we would lose the wildlife that depends on salmon, and I would also really miss commercial fishermen. You know, commercial fishermen are my people. What I love about them is that they're very independent and free thinking people, but they're also totally dependent on healthy ecosystems. So [fishermen] are strong, vocal advocates for wild places. We would lose a lot in the Tongass if we lost our small boat fishermen. So yeah, salmon are everything to the way of life here in Alaska.”

    Watch Understory

    Experience the Tongass through the eyes of three Alaskan women as they set sail on a 350 mile expedition through the Tongass. Navigate the dramatic beauty of the Tongass from the perspective of a fisherman, a scientist, an artist and an activist.

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    Ensure that future generations can enjoy the Tongass by spreading the word!

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    ES: “I really do feel that all of Salmon Shares customers are taking action for the Tongass every time they buy salmon from you guys. You know, asking consumers to think about where their seafood comes from and invest in high quality seafood from small boat fishermen - that is protecting the Tongass.

    If we can have these fishermen being able to make a good living, that's ensuring that we have the next generation of stewards for this place. So yeah, thanks to all of the Salmon Shares consumers, folks who are eating salmon from the Tongass, I really appreciate it.”

    Learn more at www.TongassFilm.com

    “Understory: A Journey Into the Tongass” is a film by Wild Confluence Media and Last Stands, and is presented by Peak Design with support from Sitka Salmon Shares, Audubon Alaska, The Wilderness Society, and Patagonia. Sitka Salmon Shares is proud to support “Understory” and other wilderness protections through our 1% For the Wild Fund.