Considering Climate Change in the Tongass National Forest and Southeast Alaska through the Tongass Futures Roundtable
The Tongass Futures Roundtable brought together a diverse group of stakeholders to discuss economic, cultural, and ecological issues pertaining to the Tongass National Forest and Southeast Alaska. The Tongass National Forest is the world’s largest remaining intact temperate rainforest and houses multiple endangered and rare flora and fauna. The Roundtable worked with the U.S. Forest Service to protect vast tracts of the Tongass National Forest and also worked with partners on restoration projects throughout Southeast Alaska. In 2013, the Roundtable was dissolved, however, lessons learned may provide insights for effective collaboration.
The Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the United States, spanning 17 million acres in Southeast Alaska. The majority of the forest is considered temperate rainforest and is home to endangered and rare flora and fauna. The forest is primarily made up of western red cedar, sitka spruce, and western hemlock. Roughly 40% of the national forest area consists of wetland, snow, ice, rock, or non-vegetated lands. Of the forested lands, roughly 30% of it has been subjected to deforestation. The remaining 70% is considered protected lands and should never be eligible for harvest. The forest is administered by the U.S. Forest Service based in Ketchikan, Alaska. The Tongass Forest Plan, updated in 2016, outlines management strategies for the forest as required by the National Forest Management Act.
The Tongass National Forest is at the center of a variety of interests, including conservation, forestry, fisheries, and tourism. The Tongass Futures Roundtable was formed to create a collaborative approach to help resolve various issues that pertain to the management of Tongass National Forest. The Roundtable brought together a diverse group of stakeholders to discuss how to incorporate economic, cultural, and ecological values in public policy issues throughout the region. The Roundtable was limited to 35 members and membership was reviewed annually to assure broad representation. The group met quarterly at locations throughout southeast Alaska. Representatives from conservation groups, Alaska Native tribes, logging companies, local governments, the U.S. Forest Service, and other state and federal agencies held seats on the Tongass Futures Roundtable.
The Tongass Futures Roundtable discussed topics ranging from forest restoration and protection of cultural sites to how climate change affects the Tongass National Forest. Multiple restoration projects were launched and completed throughout the forest, ranging from riparian restoration, fish passage enhancement, road decommissioning, and riparian thinning for wildlife. Increasing the health of the Tongass National Forest will enhance its ability to cope with the impacts of climate change. While no project is explicitly categorized as dealing with climate change adaptation, restoration efforts generally enhance a system’s resilience. The Tongass Futures Roundtable recognized the potential effects of climate change and believed that proper restoration and protection may offer the greatest sources of resilience. In 2008, the Tongass Futures Roundtable worked in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service to defer timber harvesting indefinitely on approximately one million acres of temperate old-growth forest that had been slated for logging. Protecting large, intact ecosystems may reduce the impacts of climate change in the future. The Tongass Futures Roundtable also considered the possibility of using the healthy forest as a source of carbon sequestration credits.
Outcomes and Conclusions
The Tongass Futures Roundtable was poised to deal with future issues that affect the Tongass National Forest, from climate change to harvesting pressures. However, in 2013, the Roundtable was dissolved after a number of members withdrew from the group due to a lack of consensus concerning the state of the timber industry. Alaska government representatives were some of the first members to leave. Detailed information concerning the collaborative’s processes, successes, and limitations is documented in The Tongass Futures Roundtable: Distrust, Inequity, and Collaboration in Southeast Alaska. This research found that ultimately, “… trust stemming from building strong positive relationships between stakeholder groups was not enough to overcome distrust based on past history, procedural challenges, and participants general propensity to be distrusting of one another in the context of Tongass management.” As climate change becomes a more pressing issue in the region, using the lessons learned from the Tongass Futures Roundtable may provide key insights for effective collaborative decision-making in which to address impacts.
Feifel, K. (2021). Considering Climate Change in the Tongass National Forest and Southeast Alaska through the Tongass Futures Roundtable[Case study on a project of The Nature Conservancy - Juneau]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: https://www.cakex.org/case-studies/considering-climate-change-tongass-national-forest-and-southeast-alaska-through-tongass-futures-roundtable (Last updated April 2021)