Tongass National Forest
Forest Condition in Southeast Alaska
Page 1: Forest Conditions in Southest Alaska
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Steep, glacier-carved mountains, fjords, and narrow valleys dominate the dramatic coastline of Southeast Alaska. Receiving as much as 200 inches of rain per year, this region is part of North America’s coastal temperate rain forest. The terrain's ability to retain soil and nutrients and to process large quantities of rainwater determines plant growth, and as a result two-thirds of the region consists merely of rock, ice or non-forest vegetation. The old forest that comprises the remaining third is a naturally fragmented habitat, hugging the lower-elevation coastlines where soils are fertile and well drained.
These forests are among the most biologically productive places on earth. Cedar, hemlock, and spruce trees reach up to 12 feet in diameter and anchor a diverse understory that supports an ecological web of species. The intimate relationship between animals and habitat is highlighted by recent studies of Sitka black-tailed deer, which depend upon the multi-layered forest canopy to shelter their ground-level food supply from snowfall and are, in turn, an important part of Southeast Alaska's $32 million annual subsistence harvest.1
Now these forests are under increasing pressure from logging and its associated road building. Prodcutive old forest shown here represents stands of approximately 20,000 board-feet and above. Data presented range from 1999–2002 and are the most current available at the time of publication, December 2002.