In-mid August, when the silvers are running strong, we park the Kenworth, power down the chainsaws and head out on the water. Within an hour or two my son Sterling and I can hit our limit within 4 miles of the townsite core here in Tenakee Springs, on the eastern side of Chichagof Island. Chasing the schools of fish in the following days, we quickly fill our freezer and load up the smoker. Along with kings, halibut, Dungeness crab and the numerous deer Sterling will get in the fall, this stretch of the Tongass will provide almost all of the meat we need for the year.
When we go back to selectively logging old-growth trees and now selectively logging young growth too we always keep that in mind. This forest produces salmon and timber in equal measure, and we need both. It is, by all accounts, a salmon forest. We can have both, if we’re smart about how we harvest them. Both are renewable resources that provide thousands of jobs and support families and communities through Southeast Alaska. And most of the small timber operators I know here do business with a mind to protecting both resources for the long term.
That’s why I support the Stand for Salmon initiative to update our state laws around salmon habitat. I think it’s time that we clarify standards for all work and development around salmon streams — standards that the timber industry has been working with for a while now.
Here in the Tongass, we have always lived with logging rules that keep our logging no closer than 100 feet from salmon streams. Other operators working on state and private land have lived up to standards that prevent them from significantly harming fish habitat and water quality.
The Stand for Salmon initiative and companion House Bill 199 in the state Legislature require other industries to take the same approach.
They also ask the state to take a closer look at mega-projects and allow more public input into those projects through a public comment period.
These are reasonable updates to state law, ones that follow the intent of the constitution to protect Alaska salmon. I think we can all agree that salmon are a treasure that we can’t afford to lose.
Taking the extra time and care to protect them is a reasonable cost of doing business in Alaska — and it’s something that our friends and relatives in the Lower 48 did not do in previous generations. I hear about it from friends there every time I visit.
While these updates to state law will not change how timber operators like me do business in Southeast, they will strengthen my confidence that my way of life will be around for my grand kids to enjoy. I can’t imagine living in Tenakee Springs without our wild fish and seafood harvests — man can only live on so much Costco.
Sterling and I are doing our part to adapt and keep our livelihoods going. Sterling is building homes in Juneau with local second-growth timber — which is expected to come up for harvest more and more in the Tongass in the years to come as a part of the plan to transition away from old growth. We are also working with the Forest Service to repair roads and hope to be allowed to restore logged-over stands and damaged streams.
The state needs to continue to adapt as well, to protect our collective Alaskan way of life. With big threats to salmon from mines in British Columbia, shifting ocean conditions, and changes in the weather, we need to focus on what we can do now: keeping the greatest salmon habitat in the world productive and intact.
Gordon Chew owns and operates Tenakee Logging Company with his son Sterling Chew.