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Forest Service Announces Shoreline Decision


January 24, 2005

Petersburg, Alaska - In an effort to address the ever-increasing public demand for more recreational opportunities on National Forest System lands, the Forest Service recently issued a decision concerning commercial recreation use on the nation's largest national forest.

The Record of Decision, signed by Tongass National Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole, allows for a responsible level of growth for the outfitter/guide industry over the next five years for portions of the northern Tongass National Forest's shoreline area.

The area affected by this decision includes most of the shoreline areas managed by Admiralty National Monument, and the Hoonah, Juneau and Sitka Ranger Districts. The decision identifies how much and where outfitted recreation use can occur. It provides for continued recreation growth while protecting resources and considering the needs and desires of local communities, tribes and outfitter/guides.

"One of our primary goals is to promote the development of high-quality recreation and tourism opportunities on the Tongass without adverse impacts on natural resources and maintaining high quality recreation experiences," said Cole. "Because of the remote and rugged nature of Southeast Alaska, outfitter/guide services provide one of the few ways many forest visitors can access the national forest."

From 1999 to 2001, about 15,500 people on average were accommodated by outfitter/guides within the project area. Cruise ship passengers traffic to Juneau increased from approximately 632,000 passengers in 2000 to almost 850,000 in 2004. While the increased demand for outfitter/guide services may not be escalating at the same rate as cruise ship passengers, demand for services is growing and some businesses are looking for expansion opportunities.

Cole said proactively managing recreation opportunities in the national forest protects the land for the benefit of all users.

According the Record of Decision, guided visitor-use levels would be managed to maintain quality recreation experiences without degrading forest resources or the recreation experiences for both guided and unguided recreationists.

According to the Forest Service, the decision also will have a positive economic affect on the area.

"This management plan will diversify the opportunities for resource uses that contribute to local and regional economies of Southeast Alaska while maintaining healthy forest ecosystems," said Cole.

Forest Service officials said the analysis done during the completion of the Shoreline Final Environmental Impact Statement was complex.

"We conducted an analysis to determine affects to 'recreation experience' so we could adequately balance preserving the high quality experience while allowing additional outfitted use," said Tongass Recreation, Lands and Minerals Staff Officer Scott Fitzwilliams. "This is the first document of its kind that implements components of the standards and guides along with the direction for the management of Land Use Designations from the Forest Plan for such a wide project area."

Fitzwilliams said the Shoreline decision strikes an excellent balance.

"It is effective land stewardship while still meeting the changing needs of the public," said Fitzwilliams. "The Shoreline decision allows for 11 percent of the total recreation use to be commercial (outfitter/guide) use. Although this is a conservative approach to commercial recreation use, it still allows for near doubling of the current guided use in the analysis area."

Fitzwilliams added that the input the Forest Service received from the local users, tribes and existing outfitters was one of the major factors in reaching this allocation.

"We worked very hard to allow for growth of the recreation industry while at the same time, we heard loud and clear from local communities that they did not want to see unmanaged growth of commercial recreation," Fitzwilliams said.

The Record of Decision authorizes the issuance of permits for commercial recreation through the next five years beginning with the 2005 outfitter/guide's spring operating season. Thirty-six areas are identified throughout the project area to accommodate use by larger groups of up to 75 people in a variety of settings.

The criteria for the management of large groups will provide enough protection of existing uses and resources to allow for the maintenance of the recreation experience for other users and for the protection of other resources.

"The shoreline of the Tongass offers opportunities that are unique in the global tourism market," Cole wrote in the decision. "While the lure of these wonders attract thousands of visitors annually, I have also recognized the value of areas that are home to many people who rely on these same areas for their livelihood, sustenance, recreation and quality of life. In the accommodation of the balance between existing uses and benefits to all potential users, I chose a level of commercial recreation use that I believe is appropriate over the next five to six years."

The Tongass National Forest encompasses 16.8 million acres in Southeast Alaska. It has nearly 6 million acres of designated wilderness, 150 cabins and 600 miles of trails for tourism and recreation, approximately 11,000 miles of saltwater shoreline and more than 1000 islands. More than 90 percent of the Tongass is wild, unroaded and undeveloped.

In accordance with the Code of Federal Regulations, the Shoreline Record of Decision is subject to appeal. A written notice of appeal must be filed with the Appeal Deciding Officer: Regional Forester, USDA Forest Service, P.O. Box 021628, Juneau, Alaska 99802-1628.

Appeals must be filed within 45 days of the date that legal notification of this decision is published in the Juneau Empire planned for January 23rd, the newspaper of record.


Source of News Release:

United States Forest Service - Tongass National Forest
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