America’s Rainforest Under Threat: How Alaska’s Tongass National Forest needs your help

Tongass National Forest. Photo by Henry Hartley. Wikimedia Commons.

Centuries before chainsaws were invented and logging corporations founded, the towering trees of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest were growing. Trees that soar to the sky today were already shooting into adolescence when Columbus sailed the seas.

The gentle giants amaze visitors with their arresting size — some trunks are as big as dining room tables — but these rare trees are a disappearing breed.

About 50 percent of the Tongass’ largest trees are gone forever, victims of intensive logging practices that began half a century ago.

What’s left of this majestic, ancient forest remains threatened by logging.

And despite recent collaborations that would finally ease logging in the forest’s oldest areas, legislation in the U.S. Senate threatens to open up thousands of acres of public land to more intensive logging practices.

Introduced in April, 2009 by Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich, the legislation proposes to give more than 65,000 acres of some of the oldest, most biologically rich lands in the Tongass to Sealaska Corporation, a native corporation that has already harvested at least 189,000 million acres of the Tongass.

America’s Rainforest at a Crossroads

The Tongass has reached a critical crossroads.

This forest once sprawled across southeast Alaska carpeting the state’s panhandle with thick legions of soaring spruce, hemlock and cedar.

Today the Tongass covers 80 percent of southeast Alaska’s coastal terrain, inland mountains and much of the Alexander Archipelago. It is the largest remaining temperate rainforest in the world.

But heavy clearcutting has gouged much of the oldest forests in this stunning landscape. Sweeping views are marred by awkward patchworks of clearcuts. A network of decaying logging roads worms through the land creating erosion on the way.

Despite years of logging, wild and timeless places do persist in the Tongass. This forest of all forests continues to hold value that far transcends what a logging company can fetch for its harvested timber.

Besides possessing some of the world’s most incredible trees, the Tongass is an enchanting and fertile land of water, woods and mist. It encompasses thousands of islands, fjords and waterways where steep coastal cliffs and fog-shrouded woods creep out to water’s edge. Sea otters and humpback whales make regular appearances under the shadows of coastal trees, while further inland, stunning mountain vistas mingle with glaciers and green valleys.

The very age of this forest is what creates the extreme biodiversity the Tongass is known for. The forest provides rich conditions for larger wildlife and for undergrowth and soils that teem with tiny life. Moss creeps into every wooded crevice, while streams swell with salmon allowing black and brown bears to thrive. Bald eagles, wolves, deer and many other animals abound here as well.

The forest has also nurtured and sustained local people for centuries and remains the basis for economic opportunities. And its unique mix of land and water, trees and animals offer the trip of a lifetime for cruise goers and wilderness lovers who enjoy unparalleled adventures from kayaking and fishing to hiking in the shadows of giant trees.

Saving This Rare Forest

Tongass National Forest. Photo by John Schoen.The Wilderness Society is in the midst of a major effort to ensure sustainable forest management on the Tongass.

Expert staff in our Alaska office are working with locals, the Forest Service and other groups, to create innovative solutions to traditional rivalries between timber interests and conservation groups. Together, we have been building a sustainable future that transitions the timber industry from logging in ancient forest to sustainably harvesting younger trees. Read about our vision.

Together we are making significant progress in resolving long-standing conflicts between competing groups in the Tongass, but the Sealaska bill would undermine much of that, all for the sake of one single interest.

There is hope for saving the last of America’s rainforest. But we must act now to defeat this bill. Please click here to help us save the Tongass.

* Correction: In the original version of this article, The Wilderness Society incorrectly stated the number of acres that Sealaska has clearcut. We regret the error. To be more precise, Sealaska's representative testified before Congress that the company has harvested 189,000 acres of the 290,000 acres they own, including more than 81,000 acres of clearcuts.

Tongass National Forest. Photo by Henry Hartley. Wikimedia Commons.
Tongass National Forest. Photo by John Schoen.