JUNEAU, AK (July 15, 2021) – Today marks a milestone in the sustainability and stewardship efforts of our people. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its new Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy, intended to help support a diverse economy, enhance community resilience and conserve natural resources. The USDA will be consulting with Alaska tribes and Alaska Native corporations, and engaging partners and communities in a collaborative process to invest approximately $25 million in financial and technical resources in sustainable opportunities for economic growth and the community well-being of Southeast Alaska.
A key part of the new strategy includes ending large-scale growth timber sales on the Tongass National Forest and focus management resources to support forest restoration, recreation and resilience, wildlife habitats and watershed improvement. Some old-growth sales will still be offered for community consumption and cultural uses, such as totem poles, canoes and tribal artisan use. The USDA will also commence a rulemaking this summer proposing to restore 2001 Roadless Rule protections on the Tongass National Forest, returning stability and certainty to the conservation of 9.3 million acres of the world's largest temperate old-growth rainforest. This sweeping reverse comes after a tribal consultation held last week with Tlingit & Haida, other Southeast Alaska tribes and USDA officials.
"Our people have been stewards of the Tongass National Forest since time immemorial and we stand in our sovereignty to protect it," said Rob Sanderson Jr., 3rd Vice President of Tlingit & Haida and a former and longtime member of the United States Forest Service (USFS) Alaska Tribal Leaders Committee. "The relationship between governments, as well as USDA and USFS, is an exciting step forward as we work together to integrate our traditional knowledge of protecting our lands and waters."
United States Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, has directed leaders of multiple USDA agencies to consult with tribes and communities in Southeast Alaska to identify priorities of the region which include fisheries, food cultivation for marine life, renewable energy and sustainable timber management. The USDA's actions are intended to support and preserve economies and Alaska's expansive old-growth temperate rainforest. The Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy will help promote economic, ecological, and cultural sustainability in Southeast Alaska in a manner that is directed by local voices and building upon the region's economic drivers of tourism, fishing and recreation.
Over the next month, the USDA will stand up a locally-based team to consult with tribal governments and Alaska Native corporations. They will also meet with stakeholders, communities and partners, and identify opportunities in the upcoming term to distribute the additional funding for projects and workforce development in the region. The team will actively be looking for ways to support and complement the work of groups including the Indigenous Guardians Network, Sustainable Southeast Partnership, Hoonah Native Forest Partnership, Keex' Kwaan Community Forest Partnership, Tribal Conservation Districts, Southeast Conference, and USDA's Joint Chiefs' Restoration Initiative project. The collaboration between the State, USFS and tribes will continue to build trust and opportunity for our Indigenous people in Southeast Alaska.
"It is validating to see our efforts of over 10 years inviting the USFS to work closer with tribal governments, coming to fruition," said Ralph Wolfe, 6th Vice President of Tlingit & Haida and Director of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership. "This announcement will accelerate the collaboration across the region as we turn to the real work — building robust and thriving communities across Southeast in ways that are enduring, sustainable, and culturally meaningful."
Our people have lived and stewarded these lands for millennia and we have a deep interest and duty to govern our ancestral lands in perpetuity. We depend on a healthy, intact, forest ecosystem to support our ways of life. Tlingit & Haida looks forward to this fruitful relationship and the conservation and preservation of our Indigenous lands.