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First Tuesday Slide Lecture

Alaska's Tongass National Forest

by Mark Meyer
February 5, 2013

The Tongass is the largest national forest in the United States and the largest temperate rainforest in world. It covers almost all of southeast Alaska and is incredibly rich in history and ecological diversity. The history of the Tongass as a national forest parallels the thinking about ecology and resource management in the United States. First established as timber reserve in 1902 by Teddy Roosevelt, it has grown via presidential proclamations and acts of Congress to its present size of nearly 17 million acres, 5.75 million of which are designated wilderness.

In the summer of 2012, I was assigned to create a photographic overview of the forest for the U.S. Forest Service. A project of this scope presents unique and sometimes difficult logistical challenges (especially when working in salt water environments with camera gear), but offers rewards rarely found in commercial assignments. I traveled via foot, small plane, jet boat, and sea kayak, often staying in tents or rustic Forest Service cabins. In the course of several weeks I found myself face-to-face with Admiralty Island's brown bears, dwarfed by the face of the Hubbard Glacier, and in a kayak among the seals and ice flows at the end of the Tracy Arm fjord.


The Tongass is still in many ways the epicenter of the struggle between competing interests for natural resources. It is a symbol for preservation, a living laboratory for resource management practices, and a battlefield for conflicting environmental values. Although I was able to cover all of the ecological zones of the forest, I barely scratched the surface. There are enough stories to be found in the Tongass and people who call the area home to last a photographer a lifetime.


Mark Meyer is an Alaska photographer specializing in large assignments with a focus on using images to support commercial narratives. Recent projects have included work for the U.S Department of Agriculture in Texas and California, The National Park Service, Coffman Engineers, and the U.S. Forest Service. He also shoots frequent assignments for national media outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.