The Tongass National Forest in the U.S. state of Alaska is a special place for conservation biologist Dominick DellaSala, even after decades of traveling the world to study temperate rainforests.
“The trees are enormous,” DellaSala, chief scientist at the Earth Island Institute’s World Heritage project, told Mongabay. “It’s like being in a cathedral. It’s an amazing place.”
Shag-barked yellow cedar (Callitropsis nootkatensis), mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana), and Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) are but a few of the tree species that can grow for hundreds of years and that anchor a rich and enduring landscape in the Tongass. The august Sitka is the world’s largest spruce and can tack on a meter and a half (5 feet) a year during adolescence on its way to a height of nearly 100 m (330 ft).
Walking among the giants, bryophytes and lichens carpet the forest floor, and the ground is spongy underfoot, DellaSala says. Tongass National Forest spans 67,000 square kilometers (about 26,000 square miles) of southeastern Alaska. Around 60% of it is forested, most of which is old growth. It also holds 12% of the world’s temperate rainforest.
“You don’t see that in most places around the planet, let alone the temperate rainforest system,” DellaSala said. “It’s so unique on a global scale.”
Lead Image: Black bears (Ursus americanus) in Tongass National Forest. Image by Forest Service Alaska Region, USDA via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
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