News / USA

Photographer Focuses Her Lens on Rare Alaskan Forest

A new book by photographer Amy Gulick highlights the interconnectedness of wildlife and people in the Tongass rainforest of Alaska

Chum salmon (onorhynchus keta) on a spawning run in a Tongass stream
Chum salmon (onorhynchus keta) on a spawning run in a Tongass stream

Multimedia

Audio

The Tongass rainforest in the far northwestern U.S. state of Alaska is one of the rarest ecosystems on earth. Salmon play a critical role for people and wildlife in this unusual coastal forest.

Photographer Amy Gulick says she always thought of rainforests as being in the tropics – places like Brazil and Indonesia. Then she found out about the Tongass.

"This is a very, very rare ecosystem," says Gulick. "It's called a coastal temperate rainforest. This type of ecosystem has only ever existed on one thousandth of the earth's land surface. It takes just the right conditions for this type of ecosystem to form."

The Tongass includes the more than 5,000 islands of the Alexander Archipelago
The Tongass includes the more than 5,000 islands of the Alexander Archipelago

The Tongass rainforest stretches in a narrow band along southeastern Alaska's Pacific Ocean coastline. Covering almost 68,000 square kilometers, the Tongass is by far the largest national forest in the United States.

Gulick spent months in the Tongass, photographing its wildlife and people for her new book, called Salmon in the Trees. More about that title later.

Wildlife thrives in the Tongass rainforest

The Tongass contains nearly a third of the world's remaining old growth coastal temperate rainforest. Other areas remain along the coasts of Chile and New Zealand, with smaller patches in Tasmania, Norway, and Japan.

A Black Bear snacks on salmon in a tree at Tongass National Forest in Alaska.
A Black Bear snacks on salmon in a tree at Tongass National Forest in Alaska.

Like the rainforests of the tropics, Alaska's coastal rainforest teems with wildlife.

"Every species that has existed here since the time of European settlement in the 1700s is still here," Gulick says. "Nothing is missing. So animals like wolves, grizzly bears, bald eagles, millions of wild salmon, humpback whales, steller sea lions thrive here again as they have for, for thousands of years."

Included with Gulick's book is a CD of wildlife sounds produced by anthropologist and writer Richard Nelson.

Salmon support the forest ecosystem

The Tongass, says Gulick, is a giant mosaic of different landscapes. Only about 60 percent of the Tongass is actually forested. The rest is rock, ice, wetlands and water - more than 20,000 lakes and ponds, and 64,000 kilometers of streams. Much of the forest is spread out over 5,000 coastal islands.

"And because of all those islands, no point on land is far from the sea," Gulick explains. "So this is very much a place where the forest and the sea are interconnected. And again the salmon link the land to the sea."

Salmon play a central role in the Tongass ecosystem. Every year, adult salmon return from the Pacific Ocean to the freshwater streams where they were born, to lay their eggs, and die. The migrating fish fill the waterways of the forest.

Thousands of pairs of bald eagles nest in the Tongass
Thousands of pairs of bald eagles nest in the Tongass

"There are times," says Gulick, "when I was standing on salmon streams that you could literally walk across the stream on the backs of these fish."

Such a high concentration of fish attracts over 50 species of birds and other animals, eager to take advantage of the feast.

"It's this glorious show. When the salmon enter the forest, the whole place comes alive. There are bears everywhere, eagles cawing, ravens are screeching, and again it's just this vibrant show of life going on all around you, it's a very, it's a very exciting time."

Bears often carry their catch back among the trees to eat, leaving thousands of fish carcasses scattered throughout the forest. Over time, these remains decompose, releasing nutrients into the soil where trees can take them up again.

Gulick says researchers have found evidence of salmon in the trees: "Scientists have actually been able to trace a particular form of marine nitrogen in trees near salmon streams that they can link back to the fish."

Salmon are also critical to the 70,000 people who inhabit the Tongass: coastal waters support a thriving commercial fishery, and wildlife tourism is flourishing.

Protecting the trees to save the forest

But, Gulick notes, not all development has been friendly to the fish and the forest ecosystem that supports them. "Industrial-scale logging began pretty heavily in the 1940s and 50s, and continued pretty heavily for about 50 years."

Gulick says public outcry against the logging industry slowed the cutting of the centuries-old trees of the old growth forest. Environmental groups continue to lobby to preserve the most biologically productive areas of the Tongass.

"By protecting these key areas, the best salmon producing areas, the best places for bears, the best places for deer, best places for bald eagles, then that should preserve the ecological integrity of the whole area."

Amy Gulick visited and photographed some of those "best places" in the Tongass National Forest, while working on her recent book, Salmon in the Trees.

Meanwhile, in a move hailed by environmentalists, the U.S. Forest Service recently announced it was changing its policy in the Tongass, shifting logging operations away from old-growth forest to areas that have previously been harvested. The policy change should help ensure that Alaska's rare Tongass rainforest will be around for future generations of salmon, bears and people to enjoy.

 

Short Video Book Trailer:
[This video provides an overview of Amy Gulick's book about the Tongass rainforest,"Salmon in the Trees."]

You May Like

Photogallery Ukraine: Russian Forces Tightening Grip on East

And new United Nations report documents human rights abuses committed by both sides in conflict More

Locust Swarms Fill Antananarivo Skies

FAO-led control efforts halted plague More

South Africa’s Plan to Move Rhinos May Not Stop Poaching

Experts say international coordination needed to follow the money trail and bring down rhino horn kingpins More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid