Tongass National Forest, Alaska

Tongass National Forest, Alaska

The Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska is the largest national forest in the United States at 17 million acres. Most of its area is part of the temperate rain forest WWF ecoregion, itself part of the larger Pacific temperate rain forest WWF ecoregion, and is remote enough to be home to many species of endangered and rare flora and fauna. Tongass encompasses islands of the Alexander Archipelago, fjords, glaciers, and peaks of the Coast Mountains. An international border with Canada (British Columbia) runs along the crest of the Boundary Ranges of the Coast Mountains.

The Truth About Tongass

Alaska’s Tongass National Forest includes the best tracts of rainforest outside the tropics. Subsidized logging is ripping them apart.

A strange, soft storm of white flakes is floating out of the summer sky, drifting past tall mountainside evergreens onto the nets of golden lichens dangled from their boughs, onto the bushes shaded by salmonberries and blueberries, onto the bear-tracked shores. This is not an unseasonal snow squall, not a flurry of wind-borne seeds. It’s a fall of molted feathers from bald eagles converging on the waterways by the hundreds, bright heads and tails gleaming like beacons all along the dark woodland wordpress slopes. A high tide of flesh surges inland from the sea: Each river, each stream, quivers with salmon thrashing up-current to spawn like rapids running in reverse. If any more flowing juices and beating hearts crowded in here, the place might begin moving around all alone.

Big trees, big birds, big bears, big fish, immense peaks wrapped in incredible glaciers that break off into bays where incredible whales spout: This is Southeast Alaska, the state’s panhandle. It separates northern British Columbia from the open Pacific with a chain of misty, fjord-footed mountains and a jigsaw puzzle of more than a thousand islands. Known as the Alexander Archipelago, the islands help clarify how a region less than 500 miles (800 kilometers) long can have 18,000 miles (29,000 kilometers) of shoreline (almost all wild, whereas the longest stretch of undeveloped coast in the contiguous states, is 30 miles (50 kilometers), more than 10,000 estuaries, and 13,750 river miles (22,130 kilometers) that host oceangoing fish. About 5 percent of Southeast Alaska is owned by native tribes or the state. Another 12.5 percent makes up Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. All the rest—16.8 million acres (6.8 million hectares)—is the Tongass National Forest.