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Temperate Rainforest: Alaska
The Rain Forests of Alaska
The forests of southeast Alaska are different from most forests in the contiguous United States in several important ways. First, they are cooler and wetter. Many areas are covered with standing water and soggy muskegs. About 4 million Tongass acres consist of wetlands, some of which are sparsely forested by slow-growing trees and shrubs.

Second, the Tongass is a naturally fragmented forest. It exists along a thin strip of coastline divided by glaciated river valleys and bordered by steep ice fields. The Alexander Archipelago, which encompasses hundreds of islands of varying sizes, fragments the forest even further. Highly productive (high-volume) forestlands comprise only 4 percent of the Tongass land base.

Third, large-scale fires never burned on the Tongass. Natural gaps in the forest occur in southeast Alaska when heavy winds topple shallow-rooted trees. Natural gaps the size of a 100-acre clearcut are rare.

The unique geography and unusually wet climate of the Tongass have given rise to a complex and diverse mix of habitat types - ocean, ice, forests, scrubland, and wetlands. The high level of natural fragmentation found on the Tongass must be taken into account in developing a scientifically sound management strategy. Association of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. 1996. Tongass in transition: Blueprint for a Sustainable Future; the AFSEEE - Sponsored Alternative Plan for the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska. 102 pages.

A map of southeast Alaska

A map of the old growth on a section of the Tongass National Forest, s.e. Alaska.

The Alaskan Temperate Rainforest
Southeast Alaska and rainforests to the south [of Juneau] share a maritime climate and many of the same rainforest plant and animal species. These northern forests also differ in several ways. The big trees of southeastern Alaska and northern Bristish Columbia are topographically more restricted than the (prelogged!) lowland old growth forests of Washington and Oregon. And at southeastern Alaskan latitudes, the big timber is also restricted to low elevations. 1996. Carstensen, R. Southeast Alaska. In R. Kirk (Ed.), The Enduring Forests. Seattle: The Mountaineers, p. 151.

Trees of the Alaskan Coastal Rainforest
Another distinction is that here in the north we have fewer tree species than in the rest of the coastal forest. Pacific yew and Pacific silver fir barely make it into southern southeast Alaska. Western Redcedar reaches Petersburg, perhaps limited to that latitude and southward by the growing-season temperatures and winter snow damage to leaders. Shore pine (Pinus contorta) grows in peatland as far north as Yakutat. Western hemlock and yellow-cedar extend beyond Southeast Alaska to Prince William Sound. Sitka spruce is more confined than other rainforest trees to the narrow coastal belt, yet it persists farther northward than any of the others; it thrives as far as Cook Inlet, where it hybridizes with the white spruce of the vast boreal interior. 1996. Carstensen, R. Southeast Alaska. In R. Kirk (Ed.), The Enduring Forests. Seattle: The Mountaineers, p. 153.

Coastal Alaskan Shoreline
Southeastern Alaska has 15,500 miles of convoluted shoreline. 1996. Carstensen, R. Southeast Alaska. In R. Kirk (Ed.), The Enduring Forests. Seattle: The Mountaineers, p. 150.

Alaska Rainforest Links
You may want to explore the following Web sites for more information about the Tongass National Forest, southeastern Alaska's rainforest.

A description of the Tongass National Forest.

Alaska Rainforest Campaign, a coalition of environmetal organizations working to perserve the temperate rainforest, including the Tongass National Forest.

Southeast Alaska Council has a list of "myths" about logging and conservation.

A U.S. News and World Report article entitled "At War in an Ancient Forest".

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