America’s Rainforests: The Tongass and the Chugach

Tongass National Forest. Photo credit: Alaska Wilderness League

Tongass National Forest. Photo credit: Alaska Wilderness League

In the northwest corner of North America, rugged mountains and ancient forests stretch as far as the eye can see. These are lands of spectacular beauty and incredible ecological significance, where glaciers grind valleys into the hard rock and crystal-clear rivers flow, bursting with salmon and trout. These are America’s rainforests – the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska, and the Chugach National Forest in south-central Alaska.

At roughly 17 million acres, the Tongass is America’s largest national forest, encompassing the majority of the southeast Alaska Panhandle. Rising majestically from the deep, rich waters of Alaska’s Inside Passage, this is a land of huge bears grown fat on salmon, eagles soaring the endless skies, and 800-year-old trees standing silent sentry over a lush and verdant world. Southeast Alaskans still rely on its lands and waters to maintain a traditional way of life. Despite a history of unsustainable old-growth logging practices within sensitive and essential salmon and wildlife habitat, the Tongass National Forest continues to contain extraordinary values found few places on earth.

 

Chugach National Forest. Photo credit: Debbie Miller

Chugach National Forest. Photo credit: Debbie Miller

Just to the north and west of the Tongass sits the Chugach National Forest, our nation’s second largest forest and the most northern of all of America’s national forests. Covering approximately 5.4 million acres near Anchorage, the Chugach is a breathtaking place defined by rugged landscapes of rock and ice, crystal clear streams overflowing with salmon and trout, and surrounding forest land that is home to brown bears, bald eagles and an abundance of moose. The Chugach has three distinct landscapes: the Eastern Kenai Peninsula, a hiker’s paradise that offers hundreds of miles of maintained trails; the Copper River Delta, America’s largest contiguous wetlands and one of the most essential bird habitats in the world; and Prince William Sound, home to the 2.1 million acre Nellie Juan-College Fjord Wilderness Study Area.

We must make decisions about America’s rainforests that we can be proud of—balanced decisions which allow us to continue to experience and use the rainforests and their resources, without destroying them. We have the chance to preserve the Tongass and the Chugach for future generations, but only by making smart choices today.