Logging and Crucial Habitat in the Tongass

I was blown away by the natural beauty on Prince of Wales Island immediately. Within minutes of departing the ferry we saw an ecosystem unlike any that we had previously seen, a temperate rainforest. We stopped at a lookout to soak in the view and I noticed huge, clear cut patches on hillsides in the distance. The bare patches were signs of newer logging, but it has occurred on Prince of Wales since the mid 1900’s. Many communities in Prince of Wales started as logging camps, so it is still deeply engrained within the island’s community. 

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Almost all the logging that has occurred on Prince of Wales (and all the logging in the past) was old growth logging. The largest, oldest trees were cut due to their high commercial value. In the past, there were very few regulations on logging, which led to old growth trees being harvested all the way to river and stream banks. This is illegal today, but the island is still facing the effects from logging up to watershed banks.  

 We learned the importance of riparian zones on the Russian river; large trees and vegetation keep the bank from eroding. Woody debris creates awesome salmon habitat that allows fry to mature before they venture to the ocean. If there is not sufficient habitat for fry, they will not be able to go to the ocean to later return and spawn. The entire temperate rainforest would feel immediate effects if a salmon runs were to disappear, which is why the forest service and other organizations such as The Nature Conservancy have worked to stabilize conditions in watersheds by bringing in new woody structures.  

Cutting trees that have been in the ecosystem for hundreds of years has had an impact on the ecosystem, but at the same time logging has put food on the table for many families. This has created a divide between community members who depend on logging for a source of income and those who believe that forests should be managed to create and conserve habitat for salmon. When conversations about the damaging effects of clear-cut logging take place, we can potentially find a way to responsibly utilize the island’s natural resources while keeping future generations of public land users in mind.  

-Anthony Ortiz

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