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Tongass National Forest

At 17 million acres, the Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska is the largest national forest in the United States. Most of its area is part of the temperate rain forest WWF ecoregion, itself part of the larger Pacific temperate rain forest WWF ecoregion, and is remote enough to be home to many species of endangered and rare flora and fauna. Tongass encompasses islands of the Alexander Archipelago, fjords, glaciers, and peaks of the Coast Mountains. An international border with Canada (British Columbia) runs along the crest of the Boundary Ranges of the Coast Mountains.

The forest is administered from Forest Service offices in Ketchikan. There are local ranger district offices located in Craig, Hoonah, Juneau, Petersburg, Sitka, Thorne Bay, Wrangell, and Yakutat.

In July 2009, the Obama Administration approved clearcut logging on 381 acres in the remaining old growth forests of the Tongass.

The Alexander Archipelago Forest Reserve was established by Theodore Roosevelt in a presidential proclamation of 20 August 1902. Another presidential proclamation made by Roosevelt, on 10 September 1907, created the Tongass National Forest. .

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On 1 July 1908, the two forests were joined, with the combined forest area encompassing most of southeast Alaska. Further presidential proclamations of 16 February 1909 (in the last months of the Roosevelt administration) and 10 June, and in 1925 (by Calvin Coolidge) expanded the National Forest. An early supervisor of the forest was William Alexander Langille.

The Tongass National Forest is home to about 75,000 people who are dependent on the land for their livelihoods. Several Alaska Native tribes live throughout Southeast Alaska, such as the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. 31 communities are located within the forest; the largest is Juneau, the state capital, with a population of 31,000. The forest is named for the Tongass group of the Tlingit people, who inhabited the southernmost areas of the Alaska panhandle near what is now Ketchikan.

Wilderness areas
There are 19 designated wilderness areas within the Tongass National Forest, more than in any other National Forest. They contain over 5,750,000 acres of territory, also more than any other. From largest to smallest they are:

  1. Misty Fjords National Monument Wilderness
  2. Kootznoowoo Wilderness
  3. Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness
  4. Stikine-LeConte Wilderness
  5. Russell Fjord Wilderness
  6. South Baranof Wilderness
  7. West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness
  8. Endicott River Wilderness
  9. South Prince of Wales Wilderness
  10. South Etolin Wilderness
  11. Chuck River Wilderness
  12. Tebenkof Bay Wilderness
  13. Kuiu Wilderness
  14. Petersburg Creek-Duncan Salt Chuck Wilderness
  15. Karta River Wilderness
  16. Pleasant/Lemesurier/Inian Islands Wilderness
  17. Coronation Island Wilderness
  18. Warren Island Wilderness
  19. Maurille Islands Wilderness

The Tongass National Forest offers outstanding recreation opportunities, many of which are only found in Alaska. The forest has close to one million visitors each year. Most come by cruise ship sailing through the Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska. The Forest Service provides forest interpreters and visitor programs at Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center in Juneau, the Discovery Center in Ketchikan and forest interpreters on the state Marine Highway ferry system in Southeast Alaska. The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center was the first US Forest Service visitor center built in the nation, in 1963. The forest interpretive program on the state ferries began in the summer of 1968, making it the longest running naturalist program in the agency.

There are approximately 150 rustic public recreation cabins for rent across the Tongass in remote locations, reachable by trail boat or floatplane. Many are fully accessible. There are 15 campgrounds across the forest, many in spectacular settings with views of a glacier and bald eagles. Six campgrounds offer advance reservations.

In addition, there are several spectacular bear viewing areas on the forest. The southern most site is in Hyder, Alaska. You can drive to Hyder through British Columbia. The Fish Creek site is open from mid-July through September for a small permit fee. Both black and brown bears can be seen in safety from an elevated viewing platform and boardwalk. Forest staff are on site to provide safety and answer questions.

The Anan Bear Viewing area is only reachable by boat from Wrangell. Both black and brown bears are seen from early July through August. There is an extensive viewing platform and deck above the river for viewing in safety. A day pass is required before visiting the site.

Pack Creek Bear Viewing area on Admiralty Island National Monument is a 30-minute floatplane trip from Juneau. Brown bear viewing occurs from June through September. The original bear viewing platform was built by the CCC Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Today Forest Service and State Dept of Fish and Game staff live on site in summer to provide orientation to the area and answer questions. A permit is required to visit the area. In addition, both black and brown bears can be seen along many of the over 100 hiking trails on the Tongass National Forest.

Recreation Sites
If your walk on the wild side is limited to day trips, the Tongass provides a chance to watch fish navigate upstream, enjoy a picnic around a campfire or just enjoy a quiet time in the great outdoors. Recreation facilities range from developed picnic areas, many near fishing holes, to fish passes, to rustic benches along nature trails.

Check with local ranger districts for the best places to enjoy the activity you're interested in. If you want a fire, bring your own wood supply and make sure the fire is contained in an approved fire ring and that it's completely out before you leave. Even a rain forest will burn during dry weather.

  1. Misty Fiords
  2. Southern Prince of Wales
  3. Ketchikan
  4. Hoonah
  5. Juneau Ranger District
  6. Northern Price of Wales
  7. Wrangell

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