Climate change in Alaska's Tongass
Fri, Oct 22 2010 at 12:09 PM
By The Nature Conservancy
Each year, wild salmon return to the freshwater streams of Alaska’s Tongass rainforest. When the salmon appear, people gather at the river to bring in the fish that will help feed them for the year. This custom brings Native people together in the 21st century – just as it did in the last century and in centuries before that.
In the Tongass, a healthy rainforest supports the streams that bring the wild salmon that feed families and nurture traditions. People are part of this intact cycle of life that’s increasingly rare in our world. From their experience on the Klawock River and estuary on Prince of Wales Island, many families have an intimate understanding of the salmon’s life cycle and what a salmon needs to live and thrive.
Many understand how salmon need healthy intact forests, free-flowing streams, and protective estuaries.
What is unknown is how climate change may affect this cornerstone of traditional life. Other questions beg for answers, too: How will climate change affect the rainforest, streams and estuaries of Alaska’s Tongass ecosystem? How can nature and people adapt to changes that are predicted for Southeast Alaska?
Nature + people = solutions
The Conservancy is at work to help find answers to a range of climate change questions facing the forests, streams and estuaries of the broader Tongass ecosystem of Southeast Alaska.
Tongass Rainforests as Carbon Storehouse
The Tongass is estimated to store 8 percent of the total carbon stored in the contiguous United States. The Conservancy recognizes this new understanding of Tongass rainforests critically important to mitigating the impacts of climate change. Important questions await answers. How will warming temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns affect how ecosystems in the Tongass store carbon? What forest types sequester carbon most effectively? How does restoring second-growth forest affect its carbon storage potential?
Protecting Forests: Ground-Zero for Climate Change Adaptation
In Southeast Alaska’s Tongass rainforest, the Conservancy is studying climate-induced changes in forest composition and helping the U.S. Forest Service think about how to adjust management to make the rainforest less vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Restoring Salmon Streams to Bolster Resiliency to Change
For several years, the Conservancy has worked with partners to restore important wild salmon streams on Prince of Wales Island. These projects followed the 2007 Conservation Assessment for the Coastal Forests and Mountains Ecoregion of Southeast Alaska, which established a list of watershed restoration priorities for the region. The Conservancy’s work focuses on streams with the greatest restoration need – and the greatest potential once restoration is complete.
Seeking Energy Alternatives for Southeast Communities
The communities of Southeast Alaska depend heavily on imported fossil fuels for their energy needs. To support the search for less costly and practical energy sources, the Conservancy is investigating an alternative. A central question concerns the carbon trade-offs involved in drawing on biomass fuels created by the by-products of second-growth forest thinning. Where old-growth logging has left a need for restoring crowded second-growth forests, burning wood to heat schools and businesses may create a viable market for the by-products of necessary forest restoration in the rainforests of the Tongass.
Shaping National Policy Strategies
The Conservancy is beginning to build partnerships with industry, government agencies, and conservation groups in an effort to encourage policymakers to support mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and provide funding for nature-based adaptation activities. The Conservancy believes the United States must act as a leader in the global effort to reduce emissions.
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