The Tongass of Southeast Alaska is the largest national forest in the United States and the world’s largest remaining tract of temperate rainforest. Comprised of a dizzying 18,000 miles of streams and rivers which annually produce tens of millions of salmon, it has been described as “a place where trees grow salmon and salmon grow trees”, a depiction which finds its roots more in science than in prose.
The temperate rainforest of the Tongass National Forest is the last of its kind. Similar habitat in the lower 48 and British Columbia has been divided or destroyed, the result of more than a century of logging and other human development. In contrast, the Tongass remains vibrant, playing a vital role both economically and ecologically.
2011 saw record salmon harvests in Southeast Alaska, 80% of which is covered by the forests of the Tongass. 73.5 million salmon were harvested, representing one third of salmon harvested from the entire Pacific Rim. A 2007 study determined the economic value of the Tongass commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries and related activities to be almost $1 billion dollars annually. In addition to its economic importance, the Tongass is also the lynchpin of native Southeastern Alaskan cultures.