Tongass Stories: Why We Must Protect The Tongass

We asked, you answered!

To help defend Roadless Rule protections on the Tongass National Forest, we asked you to share your Tongass Story with us, and tell us about your personal connection to the forest. Here are a few of the responses we received.

Thank you all for sharing!

From Tisa Becker, of Juneau:

"Once upon a time, a girl from Central Alaska took the ferry up from Skagway to Juneau for her first time. In an old Chevy van, which contained her treasures that were carefully packed away, she drove to her new home. The drive through the Alaskan Highway was beautiful and majestic. She especially liked stopping in Canada and trying all the great new snacks, like sticky-yellow, Zonkers popcorn. Her parents had purchased a Milepost for her to chart the course to her new home in Juneau. Each place had special reviews, of note was the Braeburn Lodge, where the sourdough pancakes the size of her head and the Candian syrup was 100% maple. It was a special drive to a special place. Her father had graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School in 1969 and was excited to share his former hometown with his daughter. Yet, he never fully prepared her for the completely different ecosystem of the Southeast.

As the ferry arrived in Juneau, the scenery changed drastically. The deciduous trees of the Matanuska Valley, like birch and cottonwood, gave way to thick Sitka spruce and hemlock. Her eyes would sometimes be deceived by those hemlocks. The secret is in the bark; hemlock and cottonwood have similar bark. One must look up at the branches to verify the identity. Hemlock trees are Evergreen and have needles, cottonwood trees have leaves that fall in autumn. At 10 years old, she knew the difference. Her parents were scientists in Forestry and Natural Resources. She knew the difference, however, she didn’t realize the variety of ecosystems until she arrived in Auke Bay, Alaska. It was a surprise, as she had assumed that all ecosystems looked similar.

The Sitka spruce were vibrant in the June sunshine. The drive through Auke Bay was fanciful, as the trees were reminiscent of Christmas firs. Yet, these Evergreens were sparking the summer sun. Unusual surroundings, my new home. A smaller town engulfed in a myriad of Evergreens. Peculiar, magical, different, and unique. As the drive concluded in Douglas Island, she thought about her future and the rich past of this different land. It felt heavier-the rain, perhaps the humidity. She couldn’t put her finger on it. She knew instinctively that she had to practice a deeper sense of humility to pass the assessments that the Tongass, were going to hand her.

And then the days came, where she spent in observation at the Division of Forestry. Her father’s aerial photos on view under a table of white light. He shared plans and resources with her. He described the woes of unmanaged logging and clear-cuts. From a biological standpoint, he described spruce beetles and how they affected sensitive trees. Later, her uncle took her to the Federal Department of Forestry, where her grandfather worked and created several amendments to the Tongass Timber Acts. Deep discussions in the Federal Building cafeteria amidst fries and burgers that she tried to comprehend amongst the taste of sweet ketchup.

She felt connected to the forest and knew its importance through 4-H hikes and backcountry mountain bike rides with unforgiving switchbacks. At 14, her parents challenged her to hiking the Chilkoot trail. She prepared by hiking each week that summer prior to departing to Dyea, Skagway. Returning from Skagway, once again she realized that the special part of living in the Southeast isn’t the rain. It’s not the small-town vibe. The part that makes Southeast special is the Tongass — the absolute feeling of freedom within its green boughs. A garden of harsh needles or a heaven of muskeg ponds and alpine flower beds. We are privileged to be able to partake in land protected by ice fields and ocean. Imagine if we took a cue from nature and left well enough alone."

From Rebecca Caulfield, of Seattle:

"I am not a resident of Alaska, nor have I ever visited the Tongass National Forest. However, I am a Seattleite who enjoys hiking in the incredible sweeping woodlands of Washington state. The rich and complex beauty of our forests and the flora and fauna they hold never cease to bring me peace and a sense of awe whenever I navigate the trails. It is a dream of mine to visit the Tongass someday and I know without a doubt that I will be just as awe-inspired by its ancient trees, wetlands, rivers, streams, mountains, and abundant wildlife. I hope that when I do visit the Tongass that its almost 17 million acres will be intact and not razed down or mined at the hand of man. Millions of acres in my home state have been converted to forest “crop land” and are no longer habitable for many plant and animal species. Whenever I pass by barren land with sometimes hundreds of tree stumps, it evokes in me a profound sense of sadness and loss for what this land used to be. I hope that humans will overcome our need to exploit our planet’s precious remaining intact temperate rainforests; not just for the vital ecosystem services they provide but out of respect for the thousands of years these lands evolved into what they are today."

From Lester Miller, of Franklin, Wisconsin:

"As a nature and wildlife photographer, I hope to visit and photograph the Tongass National Forest in the near future. I am now participating in grizzly bear, puffins, and polar bear photo tours.

In July 2019, I was awestruck by my Alaska Brown Bears photography tour in Lake Clark National Park. It was the experience of a lifetime to photograph grizzly bears in the wild and close up. We had an excellent bear guide and photo tour leader that got us safely close to the bears. We were also treated to a fabulous afternoon photographing puffins, murres, and kittiwakes on an island. Our private lodge was sensational, and we had excellent transport service to/from Lake Hood Airport.

I have now booked a 2021 Churchill, Manitoba Polar Bear Photographer Tour to photograph polar bears, arctic foxes, arctic hares, snowy owls, and the Northern Lights.

The Tongass National Forest and Glacier Bay National Park are at the top of my list to visit and photograph the wildlife and natural beauty. These trips support the substantial and sustainable Southeast Alaska economies: lodges, guides, fishing industry, air transportation, and more. It would be unconscionable to turn over the Roadless Areas of the Tongass to the unsustainable and permanently destructive logging and mining industries that represent only a minuscule part of the Southeast Alaska economy. This would permanently devastate the forest. Further, the Tongass is our largest old-growth national forest and is needed for carbon storage to fight the climate crisis. I want to see this magnificent forest and its wild salmon runs untouched. My visits to Redwood and Sequoia National Parks made me wish that the 95% of these original forests were never butchered by the loggers which ruined these great forests forever. The Tongass must be saved.

From Reno Sommerhalder, of Juneau:

"I have been visiting the fairy tale forests of the Tongass for more than 30 years. It is like a second home for me. I have watched bears catch salmon and fill their bellies with the important sugar from various species of berries. I have watched whales breach and bubble feed in the waters surrounding these magical islands. I have watched bald eagles soar the limitless skies of Southeast. And I have at last partially sustained myself from eating what the richness of this landscape is offering us all. All of the above magic is in danger of being destroyed or heavily impacted if the U.S. government decides to strip this area of its roadless designation. I trust with all of my heart that the authorities will do the right thing and keep things as they currently are!"

From Tony Perelli, of Eagle River, Alaska:

"I've visited the Tongass, I've also benefited from several meals that came from the seas there, too. More important to me, however, is the fact that the Tongass exists in its most undisturbed state. I believe we are a better society with these natural and cultural reserves. Additionally, just as I don't see some family members as often as I wish I could, my life is enriched knowing they are home and in their most undisturbed state."

Photo by Myrna Cirera

From Connie LaPerriere, of Sitka, Alaska:

"I love the Tongass for so many reasons. I love to hike the backcountry. I love the trails. I love to kayak between islands. I love the fact that it provides my family with food. I love to explore the caves. I love the different geologies. I think the Tongass has kept me happy when I am in need of renewal. I do not love too many roads and too many clearcuts."

From Charlotte Tanner, of Ward Cove, Alaska:

"I am a longtime Southeast Alaska resident. In my youth, I fished with my husband and children. The Tongass Forest is essential for the salmon to survive, along with a multiplicity of other living things. For half a century, I have witnessed the Tongass Forest being cut down as though it were a golf course, it makes my heart bleed.

I am also a gardener and I know that this will eventually turn Southeast Alaska from a rainforest to a desert or something close to it. When I see humans turning lush, green forest into junkyards of crushed cars, deserted machinery, discarded garbage and other detritus, it makes me wonder just what the purpose of humanity can possibly be?

Please don't cause any more harm to this forest. Thank you."

Vince Murray takes a picture of his wife, Lynn Murray, kayaking in Chatham Strait in 2006.

From Vince Murray, of Moscow, Idaho:

"My first memory of the Tongass is from 1981 when I took the ferry north from Seattle and ended up as a watchman/caretaker outside Tenakee Springs. Kayaking beneath the tall rock cliffs of Misty Fjords, on the ice-strewn water of LeConte Inlet, beside the dense, rich forests of Admiralty Island has helped keep me near the land through the years. But my favorite time probably was canoeing the Stikine River with my wife from Telegraph Creek to Wrangell, Alaska. The mountains, the glaciers, the animals, the richness of an intact system of life all without encountering other humans, was something very special. To think that we might put this special forest at risk is unimaginable to us. Although we now live to the south in the contiguous U.S., Southeast Alaska is never far from our minds, and we still visit whenever possible. We must do all that we can to preserve this special place. Money can never replace what the Tongass already provides."

Doug's son James Edwards and K.J. Metcalf outside of Seymour Canal Cabin on Admiralty Island

From Douglas Edwards, a minister and psychotherapist living in Oregon:

"After 20 years the Tongass is part of my life. 

Invited to consult with a conference center in Haines in 1999, I arrived in Juneau and took the Alaska Marine Highway to Rainbow Glacier Camp. As with anyone who makes their way to Southeast Alaska, it did not take long for the beauty and richness of the land to make its deep impression on me. With a naturalist in the front of the ferry describing all that could be seen, the Inside Passage to Haines teemed with life and snow-lined mountaintops.  

Little did I know that my consultation to develop a marketing plan would lead to introducing the Tongass to others. I returned to L.A. and in two years flew back to Juneau with 35 more people: high school students from across metropolitan Los Angeles for an eight-day program on creation stewardship that had students working in the villages of Angoon and Haines. These students met Tlingit elders, community leaders and folk who cared about their communities. They learned about the region and the environmental challenges people were facing. They worked, ate, and prayed with the people in the area. I can’t say that it changed the lives of everyone who went, but I know it changed my son James who later returned to Alaska, bringing his grandmother with him and again several years later with me to revisit Admiralty Island and Turner Lake. I have returned to the Tongass four times since my first trip, bringing people with me and introducing them to the richness of this land. Each visit allowed for more direct experiences of the land than the time before: to stand in the waters of Seymour Canal and see face-to-(distant)face a brown bear, to track the flight of bald eagles as they flew over the deck of our cabin, to catch dolly varden as they swam up Turner Creek. These memories are part of me. 

My connection to the land has lead me to honor those who introduced me to this place. K.J. Metcalf, first national ranger sent to Admiralty Island and former President of Friends of Admiralty Island, taught my son and I about the splendors of the region. In his name I gave my first gift to SEACC 10 years ago and now am part of being a steward of the Tongass as a member. I have introduced others to the land, advising them on their trip to the Tongass. As a SEACC member, I have become an advocate, introducing others to the land and advising them on their trip to the Tongass. I am also speaking out. I know that the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, must soon make his final decision on whether or not to remove National Roadless Rule protections from the Tongass. He needs to know what Alaska’s and the Lower 48 residents want for this land so I'm sharing my story and inviting others to share their stories. Together, our voices can inform and give Secretary Perdue a strong political foundation for keeping the national Roadless Rule protections on the Tongass.

It is not enough to say that tourism is big business. It is entirely different from other industries which are often the center of debate about land use. Tourism is generative; the logging and mining of natural resources are not. Logs which make their way into cities on both sides of the Pacific are mute; they do not speak of the richness of their homeland. They do not attract more business, they are single use resources.  It is people who generate more and more business. It is people who build a sustainable economy. Tourists like me are initially drawn to Southeast Alaska because of the vast and intact forest, not clearcuts and the hundreds of miles of shoreline and pristine rivers, teeming with salmon. The 9.3 million acres of the Tongass has been protected by the national Roadless Rule, supported by its residents both urban and rural, anglo and Tlingit. Removing these protections will have immediate and long-term impact on a healthy and generative future for the largest rainforest in our nation.

Since my first trip to Alaska, I have returned to walk the land I have grown to love, bringing with me my financial resources and more people who have done the same. My mother is now a member of a First Nation people near Ketchikan, my friends order halibut cheeks from the clean, rich waters of Alaska and make trips to the Tongass to discover the rich resources of Southeast Alaska. I read and engage in the historic decisions that the region is facing.  And I give of my time, talent and resources to the land. After 20 years, the Tongass is part of my life."

From Karen Wilson, of Juneau and Tenakee Springs:

"I grew up in Oregon, loving the outdoors. Inspired by a photo of a sailboat floating among icebergs, I latched on to the dream of finding myself in that photo. Two sailboats, a few years and a many other details later, I too was floating in front of the LeConte Glacier amidst the ice. Almost 40 years later, the adventure of one summer has become the ongoing adventure of a lifetime. I couldn't leave. There is always one more bay to explore, one more shoreline to paddle, one more trail to hike or ski. The mountains and the ocean are in walking distance from my home. My family is part of the Tongass — we are fueled by its salmon, berries, and deer. We gratefully share the forests and waters that have been home to Alaska's first people for thousands of years. This intact ancient forest, these mountains and waters, are valuable in countless ways. Uncut forests and pristine waterways will continue to provide our communities with food, recreation, and solace, along with livelihoods through fisheries and tourism. And our uncut Tongass is storing carbon, a critical asset for protection from climate change in this time of melting glaciers and a warming world. Living in the Tongass really is a dream come true, and I want to always be part of protecting this incredible one-of-a-kind place for all the generations to come."

From Kerry Kirkpatrick:

"I came to Alaska in the early '80s to help the city of Petersburg build their development plan for the next 15-20 years. I knew nothing of the wilderness, of the wild. I was afraid of the woods at night. I ended up living in an isolated cabin. Chopped wood, carried water, skiffed to town 13 miles away, and listened to the night and forest around me.

Years later I started a kayak and motorboat rental business in Juneau and introduced people to the wilderness and showed them how to become comfortable there. The Tongass National Forest became my home, my place of business and my place of worship. To be in the wilderness is to be with God. I am not a religious person, but I believe in a higher power when I am observing the natural world.

The Tongass is unique and special. So special. So wild. There is little old-growth habitat left when you look at the percentage of it that makes up the entire forest. It supports a diverse ecosystem of flora and fauna and feeds the soul of all who enter. Some places should be preserved for their uniqueness. This is one place that happens nowhere else in the world."

From Chelsea Miller:

"I grew up in Juneau hiking in the Tongass and appreciating its steady presence in all aspects of Juneau life. It holds a certain mystique and air of ancient times. I often tell people it is what I imagine Middle Earth to look like, when Frodo and the Fellowship are on parts of their incredible journey. The lush undergrowth of ferns and moss, devil's club taller than any man (or Orc!) and trees that could be Treebeard's great-grandfather.

I think one of the most magical thing is how it is home to the steady sentinels that border our southeastern villages and cities. How where the city ends the Forest begins. One of my favorite pastimes is driving to the End of the Road in Juneau and entering the forest. How much more magical, mystical and stirring to the imagination could a place get? Locals and visitors have the distinct and glorious pleasure to slip into a story of old every time they cross that wooded threshold.

There is no place on Earth quite like the Tongass National Forest and we must protect it at all costs. No road is worth damaging its beauty and no development should dare to touch this precious resource. Alaska is made better for its presence and the denizens of this wondrous forest are privileged to be responsible for its continued survival."

"My home is deep in the forest at the roots of the mountains." — Treebeard/J.R.R. Tolkien

From Susan Kreml:

"I have been blessed with four trips to the Tongass wilderness: group paddling excursions. One south from Sitka along the outer coast of Baranof Island, and three (Inside Passages) based on Kuiu Island. I still paddle (live in the Pacific Northwest) but will never be able to return to Southeast. But those trips completely reoriented my life and left me with such a profound deep love for Southeast that part of my spirit will always remain there. May it remain to give surcease for generations to come."

From Hannah Reynolds:

"While I have yet to visit the Tongass, I was supposed to spend this summer there, until the coronavirus pandemic hit. I am from upstate New York and absolutely love hiking, nature and being outdoors. From all the pictures I've seen of the Tongass, it looks absolutely beautiful. My plans to visit have been delayed until next summer, but I am looking forward to it very much.

I'm currently a student at Princeton University who is working on a two-yearlong project that is all about the Tongass and the Roadless Rule. I was inspired by the articles I read about the Tlingit women who came to Washington, D.C. to advocate for upholding the Roadless Rule. The value of the Tongass, not just as one of the biggest carbon sinks in the world or as a habitat supporting rich biodiversity, but as a place of cultural heritage, has become very clear to my throughout my research.

It can be so disheartening to see the government's support for the timber industry, even at the expense of such a culturally, biologically, and aesthetically valuable forest like the Tongass. However, the work of SEACC and the overwhelmingly positive support for the Roadless Rule has left me optimistic about the future of the Tongass. There is a long way to go, but I am hopeful that the future will hold positive, and I intend to do as much as I can to help.

From Kristy Friend:

"When I think of old-growth temperate rainforest being cut down for roads or timber, my heart breaks. Tourists and locals alike travel in droves to see the local temperate rainforest in Washington state, which though wonderfully beautiful and awe inspiring, is so much less than what it would be if there were more old-growth trees and it was left virtually untouched. We have trails that lead seekers to single old-growth trees and we stand around that single tree mesmerized. We stand imagining what it would've been like.

We also travel to see pieces of old-growth, laid down, cut down and fenced with iron for protection. We look and gawk and try to imagine what it was like.

In the Tongass we don't have to imagine. It's there and still standing. The old-growth trees there feed the Earth oxygen, hold stories from hundreds and hundreds of years ago, and hold unique and diverse flora and fauna. In Washington, we've lost what the Tongass still has.

The Tongass needs to stay standing, the Roadless Rule needs to stand. There is so much to gain by supporting the local economy with tourism. There is so much to gain from keeping the old-growth forest intact.

Please keep the Tongass standing. Future generations depend on us.

Donate Volunteer Find an Event


get updates