tongass national forest — alaska

At the end of May my husband Tim Gallagher and I took a trip to southeast Alaska where we explored a bit of the Inside Passage and the Tongass National Forest.  We were on a small boat run by The Boat Company — only 20 passengers and about 10 crew members — which meant we were able to get into little coves and natural harbors that were well off the beaten path. For a week our daily routine was to kayak in the deep, cool Alaskan water before breakfast, walk through the northern rainforest — some of it old growth — after the meal, and tour around the area in skiffs or fish for halibut, salmon, or trout before dinner. We saw humpback whales breach, brown and black bear foraging along the shoreline, and more bald eagles than you could shake a stick at.

The Tongass is the largest national forest in the United States with a huge section of it designated wilderness area. As Clinton was leaving the White House he enacted a ban on logging in wilderness areas. Two years later, an exception to this ban was made for the Tongass, which has enormous stands of Sitka spruce, hemlock, and red cedar. It’s hard to imagine full-scale logging in what looks like a pristine area (I did catch glimpses of a couple abandoned logging roads that were now bright green with the growth of alders) and just the idea of what would be involved in putting in roads to support a logging operation is mind-boggling. And for what? Pulp? Wood chips? Wood for Japan?



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2 responses to “tongass national forest — alaska

  1. “Logging, for what?”
    The Tongass once had a logging culture that was unsurpassed and relic of another era. The timber industry there supported families and towns, camps and communities throughout Southeast with a rich and wonderful way of life, a beautiful subsistence and a great place to be. It, along with an unsurpassed fishery, built Southeast, its businesses, infrastructure, its history and gave it individuality. It built banks and bridges, schools, roads, harbors and runways, and provided jobs and a tax base in a place so far from the lower 48, that it was almost inconceivable that these things could exist in places like Woodpecker Cove, Coffman Cove, Thorne Bay, Wrangell, Kake, Craig and Metlakatla.
    The Sitka spruce, cedar and hemlock burst from former clearcuts in a manner inconsistent from anywhere “down south.”
    Thinners were added to the job scene, hired to cut down the overburden of young trees in former clearcuts where within 30 years new forests, diverse stands of yellow cedar, spruce and hemlock, shot skyward.
    Despite 100 years of logging, old growth dominated in Southeast and second growth was a small part of the mix.
    It’s easy to discount logging in the Tongass based on politics and media jockeying.
    Southeast is less rich, vibrant and diverse without it. Ask anyone who has lived there for 30 years or more. Ferry boats making way for tugs towing log rafts to the mills — that no longer employ anyone — and through foggy tide rips as killer whales porpoised nearby was a thing of amazing beauty, and practicality.
    SE is poorer without the logging industry. It is more federally subsidized, which is simple debt, and much less rich in social, economic and cultural ways; more homogenized, less real.

  2. rachelbirds

    Thanks for your comments, Ralph. Your perspective is very interesting. I am always aware that I am frequently writing as an outsider looking in so I really value comments from those who know better than I about the culture and history of a place.

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