Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy

Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy

Partners for community, culture, conservation, and commerce

What is the OneUSDA Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy (SASS)?

On July 15, 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the new Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy to support a diverse economy, enhance community resilience, and conserve natural resources in Southeast Alaska. The strategy to be undertaken on the Tongass National Forest and in Southeast Alaska includes four primary components: 

  • Youth in chest waders fishing near the forest.Ending large-scale old-growth timber sales on the Tongass National Forest and focus management resources to support forest restoration, recreation, and resilience, including for climate, wildlife habit and watershed improvement.  
  • Proposing to restore the 2001 Roadless Rule protections.  
  • Engaging in meaningful consultation with Tribal Nations.  
  • Identifying short- and long-term opportunities for investments that reflect the diverse opportunities and needs in the region. 

As a part of the strategy, the Secretary of Agriculture made an initial commitment of $25 million to the region.  

 

Investment Component

A OneUSDA team comprised of the Forest Service, Rural Development, and Natural Resources Conservation Service engaged Southeast Alaska partners, communities, Tribal Nations and Alaska Native corporations in a process that reflects the immediate and long-term needs and opportunities in the region. This open-ended engagement ensures that investments were paired with a forward-looking approach to plan for longer-term action that are home-grown and responsive to local priorities, complement ongoing partnerships, and are inclusive of the values and peoples in the region.SASS Investments Pie Chart - 4 Components, percentages in adjacent list

In the short time since the Secretary’s announcement, over 270 investment proposals were received totaling more than $276 million. These proposals reflect the broad and deep need for economic stimulus in Southeast Alaska.

The OneUSDA team recommends distributing the initial $25 million investment into four broad categories: 

  • Tribal and Indigenous Interests - $12.5 million (50%)  
  • Natural Resources - $6.25 million (25%)  
  • Infrastructure - $3.125 million (12.5%)  
  • Community Capacity - $3.125 million (12.5%) 

 

Forest Management Component

In alignment with SASS, the Forest Service is refocusing resources on the Tongass National Forest to implement an integrated forest management program that includes watershed and wildlife habitat restoration, sustainable young-growth harvest, and old-growth harvest for small timber sales and cultural uses.

 

Recent Updates

Joint Press Release - USDA, Sustainble Southeast Partnership, Spruce Root, Southeast Conference, and Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

$12.4 million awarded to support more than 20 new projects

Juneau, AK (September 6, 2022) – Three Southeast Alaska entities today announced regional strengthening agreements supported through the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy. The news was shared during a collaborative virtual, partner-led event hosted by the Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (Tlingit & Haida), Southeast Conference, Spruce Root, and USDA leaders.

Under the regional agreements, the entities are collaborating with USDA to promote economic diversification and workforce development projects for themselves and other smaller organizations in Southeast Alaska. More than 20 projects, totaling $12.4 million, range from fisheries improvements to food security initiatives and are geared toward expanding the strategy’s goals and reach.

“This cooperative agreement is truly an innovative approach taken by the USDA,” said Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson, President of Tlingit & Haida. “It is an exciting step forward and an example of what we can do when we listen to the needs of our people and work together to bring sustainability projects to our Southeast Alaska communities. This is the type of community development that will bring real solutions and Tlingit & Haida is committed to being a partner in the locally driven collaborative work to help future generations.”

For Tlingit & Haida, the agreements are an example of USDA’s renewed commitment to its Federal Trust responsibilities and what can be done when partners work together on common goals of sustainable, community-led economic development in Southeast Alaska. It is not only an investment in communities, but also recognizes the critical role of tribes in the co-stewardship of our lands and waters and sustainability of our communities.

“Spruce Root’s mission is to drive a regenerative economy across Southeast Alaska so communities can forge futures grounded in this uniquely Indigenous place,” said Alana Peterson, Executive Director for Spruce Root. “We are grateful for USDA’s investment, and we also know more must be done. Since the USDA’s initial announcement about the strategy, more than 289 investment proposals have been brought forward totaling more than $276 million, which indicates both a need and excitement for home-grown, local priorities that reflect the values and peoples of the region.”

“Southeast Conference is excited to be a part of this game-changing shift in the One USDA approach to partnering in economic development throughout our Tongass communities,” said Robert Venables, Executive Director for Southeast Conference. “Not only are there immediate investments that will benefit the region, but there is also an eye toward the future with support for capacity building and technical assistance that will make these projects sustainable.”

USDA applauds the success of the economic investment portion of the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy and credits the many partners who have come together in the spirit of community, culture, conservation, and commerce. The investments in the three regional strengthening agreements are a critical component of the full $25 million commitment, now fulfilled, which is part of USDA’s promise to serve the broader economy of Southeast Alaska and continue to be part of an inclusive, responsive partnership that complements existing efforts toward practical, common-sense solutions.

First announced in July 2021, the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy aims to support a diverse economy, enhance community resilience, and conserve natural resources in Southeast Alaska. To learn more, visit the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy’s webpage.

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Media Contact:

Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska

Raeanne Holmes, Communications Manager

Direct: 907.463.7368 | Email: communications@ccthita-nsn.gov

 

JUNEAU, Alaska, March 31, 2022 — The U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced 25 projects totaling nearly $9 million of investments that are to be funded through the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy (SASS). Work continues with southeast Alaska partners on additional projects to meet the strategy’s initial $25 million commitment.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is permanently chartering a regional OneUSDA team to continue this collaborative approach to achieving social, economic, ecological, and cultural sustainability in Southeast Alaska. 

Leaders from USDA’s Natural Resources and Environment, Rural Development, and Natural Resources Conservation Service are visiting southeast Alaska this week and meeting with Tribal Nations, Alaska Native corporations, regional and local partners, including recipients of the initial funding. This visit reinforces USDA’s commitment to locally driven collaborative work towards shared outcomes in southeast Alaska communities.

“Listening to the importance of the sustainability strategy to local communities, learning about southeast Alaska culture, and meeting Tribal members and partners is an honor for me,” said Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Dr. Homer Wilkes. “I am pleased to have been able to highlight some of the first projects to receive funding, and I will be watching as the rest of the investments move forward in a demonstration of the difference we can make as a collaborative team working toward a common goal.” 

The projects announced today have been allocated in the categories below:

  • Tribal and Indigenous Interests – total commitment of $12.5 million, which includes about $2.3 million for the six projects announced today.

  • Community Capacity – total commitment of $3.125 million, which includes about $1.7 million for five projects announced today.

  • Infrastructure – total commitment of $3.125 million, which includes about $1.5 million for five projects announced today.

  • Natural Resources – total commitment of $6.25 million, which includes about $3 million for nine projects announced today.

The OneUSDA team is continuing to work with Tribal Nations, Alaska Native corporations, and other partners to distribute all funds in 2022. 

“These investments speak to the opportunities for partnership—this isn’t the first time USDA has invested in southeast Alaska, and it won’t be the last,” Under Secretary for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small said. “The people who live and work here have inspiring visions for the future, and USDA will continue to support them with investments that promote long-term economic sustainability and honor their values, communities and cultures.” 

“For years Natural Resources and Conservation Service (NRCS) has worked with private landowners in southeast Alaska to enhance the health and vigor of private forestlands and improve fish and wildlife habitat,” said NRCS Alaska State Conservationist Alan D. McBee. “This exciting new partnership will allow us to bring even more conservation benefits to southeast communities that address food security and local agricultural production.”

A girl shows off starts grown in a greenhouse

Biomass boiler greenhouse. USDA Forest Service photo.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

The Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy is USDA’s approach to support economic, cultural, and natural resources sustainability in the region. Southeast Alaska’s culture, people, and economy are interwoven with the Tongass National Forest. The strategy prioritizes USDA resources and capacity to better serve the broader economy of Southeast Alaska. We look to be part of an inclusive, responsive approach that complements existing efforts toward practical, common-sense solutions. Our initial Economic Investment effort will commit up to $25 million in federal funding based on local priorities for short-term, project-based investments.

The Alaska-based, USDA intra-agency team is co-led by Rural Development, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Forest Service. This team is locally based and will continue to consult with Tribal Nations and Alaska Native corporations and to engage with partners and municipal governments to continue to identify priorities and practical opportunities for investments of financial and technical assistance.

USDA is focused on maximizing its collective resources to provide the highest level of support and service to Southeast Alaska. Overall outcomes anticipated include stronger relationships with Tribal Nations, Alaska Native corporations, and municipal governments; inclusive, diverse engagements that represent the people, communities, and cultures of Southeast Alaska; an understanding of administrative barriers that continue to impact funding distribution and may include changes to policies, laws, and regulations; and be able to use input gained from engagements to determine short- and long-term investments for the region.

In addition to the Economic Investment component, the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy also involves ending large-scale, old-growth timber harvest and focusing resources to support forest restoration, recreation, climate resilience, and sustainable young-growth management. It also includes a proposal to restore the 2001 Roadless Rule protections on the Tongass and to engage in meaningful consultations with Tribal Nations and Alaska Native corporations.

The commitment identifies short investments that reflect diverse investment opportunities and needs in the Southeast Region. The initial $25 million investment will be divided into four broad categories:

  •  Tribal and Indigenous Interests - $12.5 million (50%)
    • Art and Culture
    • Food Security and Sovereignty
    • Shared Stewardship
    • Traditional Technical Knowledge and Cultural Use of Forest Products
    • Workforce Development Projects

 

  • Natural Resources - $6.25 million (25%)
    • Agriculture
    • Mariculture
    • Restoration
    • Young Growth Forest Management

 

  • Infrastructure - $3.125 million (12.5%)
    • Recreation Sites
    • Renewable energy
    • Waste management projects

 

  • Community Capacity - $3.125 million (12.5%)
    • Tourism and Business Development
    • Tribal and Community Youth Engagement
    • Community Workforce Development

 

USDA’s initial commitment of $25 million to support investment efforts is a positive, near-term commitment in the region’s long-term potential to support a diverse economy, conserve natural resources, and improve community resiliency.

The OneUSDA team employed a four-step assessment process to inform its recommendation for the initial investment of $25 million. The Team first used coarse filters to assess investment readiness, and then used an expanded review team to conduct a qualitative assessment. Each idea or proposal was read by multiple reviewers. This qualitative assessment included review of the following elements:

  • Inclusion of a strong set of partners.
  • Representation of a priority economic sector.
  • Addresses critical community capacity needs and/or increases capacity.
  • Meets USDA commitment to ecological, economic, and cultural sustainability.
  • Addresses historic and/or structural decisions that previously contributed to inequitable access to USDA programs.

The depth of interest, and diversity of communities and partners that submitted investment ideas, indicates that USDA is well-positioned to support economic, cultural, and ecological resiliency in Southeast Alaska for the long-term. Federal funding from recent and proposed legislation, like the Great America Outdoors Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, and other agency appropriations, can likely fund many of the investment ideas that were not quite ready for short-term support.

The USDA intra-agency team continues to engage with Tribal Nations, Alaska Native corporations, municipal governments, local partners and communities, and the public to support economic development planning and implementation efforts. USDA plans to leverage its resources to support these efforts including programs to strengthen small businesses, broadband, renewable energy production, local foods and agriculture production, water and sewer infrastructure, healthcare, housing, outdoor tourism, silviculture support and others as appropriate. Our long-term strategy will include establishing an interagency lead for the Sustainability Strategy, establishing a team charter for the Alaska-based OneUSDA team, and empowering shared leadership within the region by aligning programs with locally developed strategies such as the Blueprint for Southeast Alaska, the Visitor Products Cluster Working Group, the 2025 Economic Development Plan, and the All Landowners Working Group, among others.

A USDA intra-agency team consulted with Tribal Nations and Alaska Native corporations, and engaged with municipal governments, local partners and communities, and the public to support an integrated approach to economic development planning and implementation. USDA will leverage its resources to support these efforts including programs to strengthen small businesses, broadband, renewable energy production, local foods and agriculture production, water and sewer infrastructure, healthcare, housing, outdoor tourism, silviculture support and others as appropriate.

The intra-agency team collected diverse public input to inform opportunities for priority investments and in reducing administrative barriers that support a diverse economy, enhance community resilience, and conserve natural resources. The team used a two-pronged approach to gather public input. It conducted targeted engagement with key partners and provided opportunities for citizens and organizations to participate in shaping the economic investment component of the strategy.

The intra-agency team reached out to schedule tribal consultations and sessions to engage and inform participants about the strategy and engage in discussions about opportunities for economic investments. Discussions also focused on identifying administrative barriers to federal funding. Meanwhile, broad public engagement, in the form of a 30-day public outreach period, was held in mid-September through mid-October with several of platforms offered for additional engagement. This included virtual Open Houses, an online feedback tool, an information-filled website, and a dedicated email address for submitting input, letters, and/or existing plans or specific investment proposals.

Leaders from D.C. and Alaska pose for a photo in the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.

March 2022 SASS meeting in Juneau, Alaska. USDA Forest Service photo. Pictured left to right: Earl Stewart - Forest Supervisor Tongass National Forest, Chad VanOrmer - Deputy Regional Forester, Anthony Mallott - Sealaska CEO, Dr. Homer Wilkes - Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson - Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska President, Dave Schmid - Regional Forester, Joe Kaaxúxgu Nelson - Sealaska Board Chair, Jaeleen Kookesh - Sealaska Vice President, Policy & Legal Affairs, and Raymond Paddock - Environmental Manager for Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.