USDA Announces Restoration Initiative for Southeast Alaska

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced an initiative on Thursday called the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy, which is designed to “help support a diverse economy, enhance community resilience, and conserve natural resources,” in Southeast Alaska, particularly the Tongass National Forest. Through consultation and collaboration with tribes, Alaska native corporations, partners, and communities, the USDA plans to invest $25 million in financial and technical resources, creating sustainable opportunities that will spur economic growth and community well-being. The USDA also hopes the new strategy will allow it to better identify opportunities for future investment.

Part of the strategy is the complete halt of large-scale old growth timber sales. Small-scale will still be available for “community consumption and cultural uses such as totem poles, canoes and tribal artisan use.” The management resources usually employed for the timber sales will be redirected to assist in forest restoration, recreation, and resilience. These efforts will also aid the current push for climate, wildlife habitat, and watershed improvement. In order to provide further stability and certainty to the region, the strategy will also provide for the restoration of the 2001 Roadless Rule protections in the Tongass National Forest.

Since Southeast Alaska is an area with diverse needs, the USDA claims it is necessary to collaborate with groups who represent the diverse interests of the area. Secretary Tom Vilsack described the motive behind the new USDA initiative, explaining, “we look forward to meaningful consultation with Tribal governments and Alaska Native corporations, and engaging with local communities, partners, and the State to prioritize management and investments in the region that reflect a holistic approach to the diverse values present in the region.”

Ultimately, the new Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy will aid in identifying long-term economic opportunities and make use of the resources in Southeast Alaska while also reflecting the cultural heritage of the area. The next 30 days will involve the USDA collaborating with different groups to design practical approaches and opportunities for the $25 million investment. Every effort will be taken by the USDA to maintain the old growth temperate rainforest in Southeast Alaska. The strategy is in direct alignment with the Biden administration’s efforts to address climate change on a global and local scale.