Water. The roar of a river has many of us thinking of fishing, rafting and adventure; icebergs calving from a glacier to plunge into the sea are an amazing sight; the sound of raindrops on a metal roof soothes us to sleep; and a tall, cold glass of fresh, clean water keeps our growing children healthy.
Abundant, clean water is an essential resource in Alaska. While our state makes up about 17 percent of the land mass of the United States, it accounts for one-third of the U.S fresh water supply; much of it located in Southeast and Southcentral where the coastal mountains receive abundant amounts of rainfall. Healthy children grow here.
National forests were originally created to protect valuable watersheds. In the U.S., there are 155 national forests comprising almost 190 million acres of land. Alaska has 12 percent of the nation’s national forests, with the largest national forest, the Tongass, covering over 17 million acres, and the second largest, the Chugach, covering over 5 million acres. Much of the water that ends up in rivers and streams comes from forested watersheds that filter the water through vegetation and soil as it flows to the ocean, carrying valuable nutrients through the forest ecosystem out to sea. Alaska’s water can take many forms: rivers, lakes, glaciers, ice fields, estuaries and wetlands. Forests also help control soil erosion by slowing the rate at which water enters streams. Healthy watersheds grow healthy forests here.
Our lakes, rivers and streams are teaming with life. Wild Alaska salmon, trout, and steelhead spend a portion of their life cycle here, spawning and laying eggs which will soon hatch and grow. Many head out to sea becoming the bounty of many a skilled fisherman’s harvest. From bears to eagles to whales, many animal and marine species rely on nutrient-dense fish that thrive in healthy forest watersheds. And Alaska’s people rely on them as well. Statewide, seafood harvests brings Alaska over $5.9 billion in economic activity and 41,000 jobs, second only to Alaska’s oil and gas industry. Wild salmon runs grow here.
People visiting Alaska to hike, camp, kayak and fish represent other user groups that rely on heathy forests and watersheds — the visitor industry statewide provides 37,800 jobs and contributes $1.3 billion dollars to Alaska’s economy. Jobs grow here.
The U.S. Forest Service manages for multiple use, and healthy forests can sustain many different activities, among them: timber harvest, mining, renewable energy biomass and hydropower, recreation, tourism and subsistence harvest. Diverse economies grow here.
Many of Alaska’s rural communities are located within or near a national forest and their residents rely on the forest for the harvest of fish, plants, and game for subsistence uses; following age-old family and cultural traditions. Communities grow here.
Although there can often be competing interests on any forest, one common thing all resource users require to succeed is a healthy forest with healthy watersheds. Water helps power seafood, tourism, jobs, communities and economies. And to honor Alaska’s Arbor Day, where we traditionally celebrate by planting and caring for trees, we can also celebrate Alaska’s healthy national forests because opportunity grows here.
• Beth Pendleton is a regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service-Alaska Region.