Alaska Natives have continuously inhabited southeast Alaska and the Tongass for thousands of years, depending on the bounty of salmon, deer and moose for subsistence. The first nations include the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian, and the forest itself is named for the Tongass group of the Tlingit people, who inhabited the southernmost areas of southeast Alaska, near what is now the city of Ketchikan. Dependence on the land is still a way of life here, a cultural tradition as well as a necessity, made possible by the abundance of fish and wildlife in the region.
Today, the Tongass is home to approximately 70,000 people spread among 32 communities, including approximately 32,000 in the state capital of Juneau. The region is often referred to as the “Inside Passage” or the gateway to Alaska, and is defined by its primary industries with commercial fishing, tourism and recreation jobs among the fastest growing job sectors in southeast Alaska. These industries pump approximately $1 billion apiece into southeast Alaska’s economy annually and support approximately 7,200 jobs (fishing) and 10,000 jobs (tourism) respectively.