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Tongass National Forest  

Tongass National Forest

Tongass National Forest, the largest in the United States, received its name from the Tongass Clan of the Tlingit Indians and dates back to 1902 when President Theodore Roosevelt created the Alexander Archipelago Forest Reserve. In 1908 the forest was renamed and expanded and today the 16.9 million-acre Tongass National Forest stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the vast inland ice fields that border British Columbia and from the southern tip of Prince of Wales Island to Malaspina Glacier 500 miles to the north. More than 80 percent of Southeast Alaska is in Tongass and with its thousands of islands, fjords and bays the national forest has 11,000 miles of coastline, about half of that of North America. Tongass' vast coastal rain forest includes towering hemlock, spruce and red and yellow cedar. Beneath the massive conifers are young evergreens and shrubs such as devil's club, blueberry and huckleberry. Moss and ferns cover the ground, and lichens drape many trees.

Wildlife is abundant throughout Tongass. Sitka blacktail deer and its two main predators, wolf and brown bear, are found here. Black bear are common as well as mountain goats and some moose. Marine mammals found along the shores include Dall and harbor porpoises, hair seal and humpback, minke and killer whales and a growing population of sea otters. The waters teem with fish including halibut and all five species of Pacific salmon. More bald eagles live in this region than in any other place in the world.

Though home to the world's largest temperate rain forest, almost half of Tongass is covered by ice, water, wetlands and rock. It's most famous ice floe is the Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska's famous "Drive-in glacier" because it is only 13 miles from downtown Juneau along a paved road. A boat ride from Petersburg or Wrangell brings you near the face of LeConte Glacier, the southernmost tidewater glacier on the continent. Just 30 miles north of Yakutat is Hubbard Glacier, the longest tidewater glacier in the world and easily Alaska's most active. The 76-mile-long glacier has galloped across Russell Fjord several times, most recently in 2008. The rip tides and currents that flow in front of the 8-mile-wide glacier are so strong they cause Hubbard to calve almost continuously.

The Tongass contains 19 wilderness areas, including the 545-sq-mile Russell Fjord Wilderness, as well as Admiralty Island National Monument and Misty Fiords National Monument. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and the general area around Haines and Skagway are not part of the national forest.

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