Note: Opinions expressed in commentary on KCAW are those of the author, and are not necessarily shared by the station’s board, staff, or volunteers.
By Lauryn Nanouk Jones
I am a three-year senior at Mt. Edgecumbe High School. I am from Unalakleet, in Northwestern Alaska. The first time I saw Sitka was in the month of August, 2019. It was hard for me to get used to Sitka at first because growing up my diet consisted mostly of Native foods from fish to meat like caribou and moose, so coming to Sitka was a huge change for me because I didn’t have the Native foods I was used to. However, there were still foods like fish and deer that were caught and donated to Mt. Edgecumbe, and that helped connect me to the community, and to recognize the similar connections between people and place here in Southeast Alaska. I am extremely thankful I am able to still have a part of home here in Sitka.
Industrial-scale logging and clearcutting of old-growth within the Tongass National Forest destroy habitats and ecosystems that make subsistence activities and hunting possible. That is one of the reasons why in 2001 the Clinton Administration put the Alaska Roadless Rule in place: to protect the Tongass National Forest from industrial-scale logging and devastating clearcuts. The rule helps protect productive wildlife habitats and protects intact ecosystems within the national forest.
So when I first heard of the “full exemption” of the Roadless rule proposed in 2019, I was distraught by the actions of our politicians and lawmakers, and of our then-president. I was further disappointed when I heard the support from these lawmakers and politicians and their choice to ignore the 96% of 250,000 people who commented in support of maintaining the Roadless Rule protections. The active dismissal of our peoples’ voices by our lawmakers and representatives scared me. They ignored tribes, fishermen, tourism operations, scientific consensus, and thousands of people who want to preserve the land for generations to come. Now, hearing that the Biden Administration was in the process of restoring the Roadless Rule, I was overjoyed and I regained some of the lost hope I felt when I first heard about the proposed exemption. While working with the Mt. Edgecumbe Environmental Club, I learned the power of advocacy. I witnessed communities coming together in hope of preserving the Tongass, uniting to protect their home. It was amazing the number of people that showed up at the Forest Service public meeting to give their testimonies. It was amazing to see the number of Mt. Edgecumbe students come to see the documentary, The Salmon Forest, and write statements to preserve the Tongass. Although most of us haven’t grown up in the Southeast, we all understood the importance of the Tongass National Forest to the people here within Southeast Alaska, as many of us face battles in our own hometowns that pit large-scale resource extraction and development against our food security and climate security. If there’s a problem big enough it unites the community, it just takes the right people. And it made me believe that my community can come together to talk about climate change, and advocate for a better future. So even though the Tongass was at risk for being open for logging and road making, it gave me hope when I saw the communities here within the Sitka and surrounding towns unite together, and advocate for keeping Roadless Rule protections in place. This demonstrated to me the power of using your voice to advocate for what you believe in. Together, we can make a difference.