Tongass National Forest: Protecting America's Irreplaceable Old Growth

The Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska is the country's largest. Often called the crown jewel of the National Forest System, its 17 million acres—an area roughly the size of West Virginia—make up the core of one of the world's largest coastal temperate rain forests. Rising from the deep, clear waters of Alaska's Inside Passage, the Tongass is home to 800-year-old trees, roadless areas, rushing rivers, and rugged mountains, and it shelters grizzly bears, bald eagles, salmon, and other wildlife.

For two decades, the Pew Environment Group has worked to safeguard biodiversity in the Tongass from road building and other industrial activity, including protecting old-growth and backcountry forests through the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Now, this icon of America's forests is threatened by a proposal under negotiation by the Obama administration and Congress with the Sealaska Corporation. Sealaska is seeking to modify its land selection claims granted under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971. However, many of the proposed new selections are the rarest old-growth stands, public lands at the heads of bays, and mouths of salmon streams. These areas are a public treasure, vital to tourism and a $1 billion salmon fishing industry.

The vast majority of the old-growth forests in the United States outside of Alaska have been cut down. The Tongass represents the greatest remaining reserve of large trees in the nation, yet during the past century, it has lost more than half of these old-growth stands to industrial logging. Like California's giant redwoods, these ancient forests are magnificent in their own right and provide irreplaceable habitat for fish and wildlife.