The Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska is the largest national forest in the United States at 17 million acres (69,000 km²). 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 forest is administered from Forest Service offices in Ketchikan.
There are local ranger district offices located in Craig, Hoonah, Juneau, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Sitka, Thorne Bay, Wrangell, and Yakutat. In July 2009, the Obama Administration approved clearcut logging on 381 acres (1.54 km2) in the remaining old growth forests of the Tongass. The Tongass National Forest is home to about 75,000 people who are dependent on the land for their livelihoods. Several Alaska Native tribes live throughout Southeast Alaska, such as the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. 31 communities are located within the forest; the largest is Juneau, the state capital, with a population of 31,000. The forest is named for the Tongass group of the Tlingit people, who inhabited the southernmost areas of the Alaska panhandle near what is now Ketchikan.
Tongass includes parts of the Northern Pacific coastal forests and Pacific Coastal Mountain icefields and tundra ecoregions. Along with a region of the Central and North Coast regions of British Columbia designated by environmental groups as the Great Bear Rainforest, Tongass is part of the "perhumid rainforest zone," and the forest is primarily made up of western red cedar, sitka spruce, and western hemlock. Tongass is Earth's largest remaining temperate rainforest. The terrain underlying Tongass is divided between karst (limestone rock, well-drained soil, and many caves), and granite (poorly drained soil).
Unique and protected creatures seldom found anywhere else in North America inhabit the thousands of islands along the Alaska coast. Five species of salmon, brown and black bear, and Bald eagles abound throughout the forest. Many migratory birds spend summer months nesting among the archipelago, notably the Arctic tern. Though its land area is huge, about 40% of the Tongass is composed of wetlands, snow, ice, rock, and non-forest vegetation, while the remaining 10 million acres (40,000 km2) are forested. About 5 million acres (20,000 km2) are considered “productive old-growth”, and 4,500,000 acres (18,000 km2) of those are preserved as wilderness areas.
There are 19 designated wilderness areas within the Tongass National Forest, more than in any other National Forest. They contain over 5,750,000 acres (23,300 km2) of territory, also more than any other. From largest to smallest they are:
The Tongass National Forest offers outstanding recreation opportunities, many of which are only found in Alaska. The forest has close to one million visitors each year. Most come by cruise ship sailing through the Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska. The Forest Service provides forest interpreters and visitor programs at Mendenhall Glacier
Visitor Center in Juneau, the Discovery Center in Ketchikan and forest interpreters on the state Marine Highway ferry system in Southeast Alaska. The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center was the first US Forest Service visitor center built in the nation, in 1962.
The forest interpretive program on the state ferries began in the summer of 1968, making it the longest running naturalist program in the agency. There are approximately 150 rustic public recreation cabins for rent across the Tongass in remote locations, reachable by trail boat or floatplane. Many are fully accessible. There are 15 campgrounds across the forest, many in spectacular settings with views of a glacier and bald eagles. Six campgrounds offer advance reservations.
Native Corporation Lands:
Native Corporation Lands are those designated by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 (ANCSA). This Act awarded approximately 148,500,000 acres (601,000 km2
) of Federal land in Alaska to private native corporations which were created under the ANCSA. 632,000 acres (2,560 km2
) of those lands were hand-picked old growth areas of the Tongass National Forest and are still surrounded by public National Forest land. These lands are now private and under the management of Sealaska, one of the native regional corporations created under the ANCSA.
Transference of public National Forest land to a privately owned corporation removes it from protection by Federal law and allows the owners to use the land in whatever way they see fit without regard to the effects of the use on surrounding lands and ecosystems. This fact has caused much controversy involving the business interests of Native Regional Corporations and the personal interests of local Native and non-Native residents of Southeastern Alaska.