Tongass National Forest
October 22, 1998 -- There's a battle going on over a huge rain forest. It includes struggles between logging and preservation, between tree farming and diversity, between old-growth and second-growth, between jobs now and long term viability. The battle is not being waged in Africa or South America, but in the United States. The fight is over the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, the continent's last great intact rain forest
Listen to part one of the NPR/National Geographic Radio Expedition to Tongass as NPR's Christopher Joyce explores the changes taking place, and their impact on people, industry and the environment.
Tongass is home to Landmark trees -- cathedral-like stands of huge original growth trees that date back more than 500 years. According to Sam Skaggs, president of Alaska research Voyages and a freelance naturalist in Juneau, this landmark tree forest could be a destination for tourists -- beyond whales, glaciers and bears one can see from a cruise ship.
Skaggs and like-minded adventurers use aerial and satellite photos to locate these Landmark trees -- to map them, measure them, and show anyone who'll come along, what the Tongass once looked like.
NPR's Christopher Joyce joins Sam Skaggs and naturalist Richard Carstensen on a Radio Expeditions hunt for Alaska's rarest old growth stands of Sitka spruce and hemlock.
Using aerial photos they hike through alder forests and fire-weed meadows, cross sphagnum bogs and salmon-choked streams. They see eagles overhead and bear trails -- with paw-prints -- some seven inches across -- indicating grizzlies nearby.
Then it appears -- the old growth stand, and in the distance -- the landmark tree. They measure, and find it stands 208 feet high, surrounded by many others almost as big. Fallen logs are everywhere, many as big as an automobile.
And it all comes together. The fragile but vital interconnection of the big trees, the streams, the salmon, bears, bushes, and eagles.
Carstensen and Skaggs will share their data with local and federal authorities. Skaggs says it's not the adventure or risk that attracts him to the Landmark trees, but rather the feeling that letting people know about this land and its unique trees could be the most important thing he ever does.
Join NPR's Christopher Joyce for part two of the National Public Radio/National Geographic Radio Expedition to the Landmark trees of Tongass National Forest.