The Tongass National Forest is the size of Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.
Stretching the length of Alaska's southeastern panhandle, the Tongass National Forest is three times the size of any other national forest.
Much of its 17 million acres lies within the Alexander Archipelago, a 500-mile chain of islands ranging from small, rocky reefs to huge forested land masses.
- Though it remains the heart of the earth's largest, intact temperate rainforest, the Tongass has lost roughly a million acres of its richest old growth over the past half century to clearcut logging and the construction of access roads. Today, about 5 million acres of old growth remain.
- To the east, the Tongass' mainland is bordered by the highest coastal mountain range in the world. Blocked by these mountains, storms rolling in from the Pacific Ocean blanket higher elevations in snow and ice and soak low-lying areas with as much as 200 inches of rain a year.
- Moisture trapped by the coastal range makes the Tongass' temperate rainforest some of the richest, most biologically productive land on earth. Scientists believe that some sections of coastal temperate rainforest produce four times the biomass (organic matter) of tropical rainforests.
- The Tongass contains nearly 30 percent of the world's unlogged coastal temperate rainforest.
- Old-growth trees in the Tongass live 200 to 700 years, though the coniferous yellow cedar can survive 1,000 years or more. Even after dying, cedars play an important role in the forest; their skeletons, which often remain standing, provide habitat for birds and insects.
- The world's largest concentration of bald eagles lives in the Tongass. Drawn by salmon runs and prime nesting sites in towering trees, as many as 2,000 bald eagles gather in some parts of the forest each spring.
- Grizzly bears are estimated to number 30,000 strong in the Tongass. In the summer, when salmon are plentiful, they eat 80 to 90 pounds of fish a day to fatten up for the winter ahead. During this warm weather binge, they can gain up to 40 pounds of fat every week.
- The Tongass is also an important stopping point for migratory waterfowl -- nearly 15,000 snow geese rest in the forest each year before their journey to Wrangel Island in Siberia.
- A less visible, but no less dramatic, landscape lies beneath the forest's spongy floor. Water seeping through soil and limestone has carved, over centuries, a network of sinkholes, fissures and caves. Known as karst, this topography produces nutrient-rich waters and drainage conditions that support robust salmon runs and fuel the growth of the Tongass' soaring trees.
- The Tongass' karst also holds clues to the region's natural history; many of the caves are older than surrounding glaciers, and have yielded animal bones more than 45,000 years old.