Southeast Alaska, colloquially referred to as the Alaska Panhandle or Alaskan Panhandle, is the southeastern portion of the U.S. state of Alaska, bordered to the east by the northern half of the Canadian province of British Columbia. The majority of Southeast Alaska's area is part of the Tongass National Forest, the United States' largest national forest. In many places, the international border runs along the crest of the Boundary Ranges of the Coast Mountains (see Alaska boundary dispute). The region is noted for its scenery and mild, rainy climate.
Southeast Alaska has a land area of 35,138 square miles (91,010 km2), comprising much of the Alexander Archipelago. The largest islands are, from North to South, Chichagof Island, Admiralty Island, Baranof Island, Kupreanof Island, Revillagigedo Island and Prince of Wales Island. Major bodies of water of Southeast Alaska include Glacier Bay, Lynn Canal, Icy Strait, Chatham Strait, Stephens Passage, Frederick Sound, Sumner Strait, and Clarence Strait.
The archipelago is the northern terminus of the Inside Passage, a protected waterway of convoluted passages between islands and fjords, beginning in Puget Sound in Washington state. This was an important travel corridor for Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian Native peoples, as well as gold-rush era steamships. In modern times it is an important route for Alaska Marine Highway ferries as well as cruise ships.
Southeast Alaska is composed of seven entire boroughs and two census areas, in addition to the portion of the Yakutat Borough lying east of 141° West longitude. Although it has only 6.14 percent of Alaska's land area, it is larger than the state of Maine, and almost as large as the state of Indiana. The Southeast Alaskan coast is roughly as long as the west coast of Canada.
The 2010 census population of Southeast Alaska was 71,616 inhabitants, about 45 percent of whom were concentrated in the city of Juneau. Only eight settlements in Southeast Alaska had a population of at least 1,000 people. By 2018, that number has grown to nine settlements.
Southeast Alaska includes the Tongass National Forest (which manages Admiralty Island National Monument and Misty Fjords National Monument), Glacier Bay National Park, Sitka National Historical Park, Alaska's Inside Passage, and myriad large and small islands. It is the largest national park in the United States. On August 20, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt established the Alexander Archipelago Forest Reserve, which formed the heart of the Tongass National Forest that covers most of the region.
The climate of Southeast Alaska is dominated by a mid-latitude oceanic climate (Köppen Cfb) in the south, a oceanic, marine sub-polar climate (Köppen Cfb) in the central region around Juneau, and a subarctic climate (Köppen Dfc) to the far northwest and the interior highlands of the archipelago. Southeast Alaska is also the only region in Alaska where the average daytime high temperature is above freezing during the winter months.
Southeast Alaska is a temperate rain forest within the Pacific temperate rain forest zone, as classified by the World Wildlife Fund's ecoregion system, which extends from northern California to Prince William Sound. The most common tree species are sitka spruce and western hemlock.
Wildlife includes brown bears, black bears, endemic Alexander Archipelago wolf packs, Sitka black-tailed deer, humpback whales, orcas, five species of salmon, bald eagles, harlequin ducks, scoters, and marbled murrelets.
The Ecological Atlas of Southeast Alaska, published by Audubon Alaska in 2016, offers an overview of the region's landscape, birds, wildlife, human uses, climate change, and more, synthesizing data from agencies and a variety of other sources.
This area is the traditional homeland of the Tlingit, and home of a historic settling of Haida as well as a modern settlement of Tsimshian. The region is closely connected to Seattle and the American Pacific Northwest economically and culturally.
Logging has been an important industry in the past, but has been steadily declining with competition from other areas and the closure of the region's major pulp mills; the Alaska Forest Association described the situation as "desperate" in 2011. Its members include Alcan Forest Products (owned by Canadian Transpac Group, one of the top 5 log exporters in North America) and Viking Lumber, which is based in Craig, Alaska. Debates over whether to expand logging in the federally owned Tongass are not uncommon.
Mining remains important in the northern area with the Juneau mining district and Admiralty mining district hosting active mines as of 2015. Gold was discovered in 1880 and played an important part in the early history of the region.
In the 2010s, mines increasingly begun to be explored and eventually completed in neighboring British Columbia, upstream of important rivers such as the Unuk and the Stikine, which became known as the transboundary mining issue. In 2014, the Mount Polley Mine disaster focused attention on the issue, and an agreement between Canada and Alaska was drafted in 2015.
The proposed Kerr Sulphurets Mitchell exploration is upstream of the Unuk. Mines upstream of the Stikine include the Red Chris, which is owned by the same company (Imperial Metals) as the Mount Polley mine.
The border between Alaska and the Canadian province of British Columbia was the subject of the Alaska boundary dispute, where the United States and the United Kingdom claimed different borderlines at the Alaskan panhandle. While the British foreign affairs were in favor of support of the Canadian argument, the event resulted in what was thought of as a betrayal, leading to alienation of the British from the new nation of Canada.
Due to the extremely rugged, mountainous nature of Southeastern Alaska, almost all communities (with the exception of Hyder, Skagway, and Haines) have no road connections outside of their locale, so aircraft and boats are the major means of transport. The Alaska Marine Highway passes through this region.
Alaska Airlines is by far the largest air carrier in the region, with Juneau's Juneau International Airport serving as the aerial hub for all of Southeast and Ketchikan's Ketchikan International Airport serving as a secondary hub for southern Southeast Alaska. Alaska's bush airlines and air taxis serve many of the smaller and more isolated communities and villages in the regions. Many communities are accessible by air only by floatplane, as proper runways are often difficult to construct on the steep island slopes.
Southeast Alaska is primarily served by the state-run Alaska Marine Highway, which links Skagway, Haines, Hoonah, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg, Wrangell, Ketchikan and other outlying communities with Prince Rupert, BC and Bellingham, Washington; and secondarily by the Prince of Wales Island-based Inter-Island Ferry Authority, which provides the only scheduled passenger and auto ferry service to the island. A new Authority, the Rainforest Islands Ferry Authority, was created and in 2014 may possibly operate the North End route. The Authority would connect Coffman Cove with Wrangell and Petersburg. Small companies like Sitka-based Allen Marine and other independent operators in the Lynn Canal occasionally also offer marine passenger service. Ship traffic in the area is seasonally busy with cruise ships.
The 2014 Palma Bay earthquake occurred at 02:54 Alaska Daylight Time on July 25 in the northern southeastern panhandle of the U.S. state of Alaska. The earthquake registered 6.0 on the moment magnitude scale and had a maximum Mercalli intensity of IV (Light). It was centered on Palma Bay, 26 miles (42 km) from Elfin Cove and 94 miles (151 km) from the state capital of Juneau. Although there were no injuries or deaths, there were significant disruptions to Internet and telecommunications throughout Southeast Alaska, including to major telecom providers Alaska Communications Systems (ACS) and AT&T wireless, Internet and other communication systems.Alaska Marine Highway
The Alaska Marine Highway (AMH) or the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) is a ferry service operated by the U.S. state of Alaska. It has its headquarters in Ketchikan, Alaska.The Alaska Marine Highway System operates along the south-central coast of the state, the eastern Aleutian Islands and the Inside Passage of Alaska and British Columbia, Canada. Ferries serve communities in Southeast Alaska that have no road access, and the vessels can transport people, freight, and vehicles. AMHS's 3,500 miles (5,600 km) of routes go as far south as Bellingham, Washington, in the contiguous United States and as far west as Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, with a total of 32 terminals throughout Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington. It is part of the National Highway System and receives federal highway funding. It is also a form of transportation of vehicles between the state and the contiguous United States, going through Canada but not requiring international customs and immigration.
The Alaska Marine Highway System is a rare example in the U.S. of a shipping line offering regularly scheduled service for the primary purpose of transportation of passengers rather than of leisure or entertainment. Voyages can last many days, but, in contrast to the luxury of a typical cruise line, cabins cost extra, and most food is served cafeteria-style.Chuck River Wilderness
Chuck River Wilderness is a 74,298-acre (30,067 ha) wilderness area located within the Tongass National Forest in the U.S. state of Alaska. It was designated by the United States Congress in 1990.Located at the head of Windham Bay, Chuck River Wilderness is adjacent to the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness. The Chuck River flows northward from its headwaters near Port Houghton through dense forest with thick vegetation before emptying into Windham Bay where the historic Chuck Mining Camp operated until the 1920s. There is private land in the lower river and in portions of the bay where there was once a small settlement.Climate change in Alaska
Climate change in Alaska encompasses the effects of climate change in the U.S. state of Alaska.
In August 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency reported that "[o]ver the past 60 years, most of the state has warmed three degrees (F) on average and six degrees during winter" As a result of this temperature increase, the EPA noted that "Arctic sea ice is retreating, shores are eroding, glaciers are shrinking, permafrost is thawing, and insect outbreaks and wildfires are becoming more common". The EPA further noted that these changes were likely to accelerate in the future, potentially causing infrastructure damage due to thawing permafrost, and a decline of the state's fishing industry.The temperate rainforest that covers the Southeastern part of the state is a result of humid summers and transient snow cover in winter. The conifers that thrive in this moist climate are free from fire risk as compared to the forests to both the north and south. Warmer weather will lengthen the growing period of the trees and the increase in evapotranspiration is likely to outweigh the increase of precipitation. Assuming a scenario involving a mid-range increase in emissions, the average temperature may rise by about 3 °F by the year 2040 and by 6 °F by 2080. The trees will grow more vigorously but fungi that cause rot will also thrive, there is likely to be an increase in windthrow, and fire risk may rise.
With winter temperatures increasing, the type of precipitation will change. Lack of snow cover on the ground will expose tree roots to colder soils, and yellow ceder is already showing the result of this with many trees dying. The melting of glaciers in the watershed is likely to accelerate and will cause hydrological changes that will impact the wetland habitats and the distribution of wildlife. Animals such as the black-tailed deer, moose and mountain goat may benefit from less snow cover, while such mammals as the northwestern deer mouse that tunnels under the snow are likely to be disadvantaged.
The Alaska Climate Change Sub-Cabinet was established in 2006 to advise the Governor on climate change strategy, including opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the use of alternative fuels, energy conservation, fuel efficiency, and transportation planning.Coeur Alaska, Inc. v. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council
Coeur Alaska, Inc. v. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, 557 U.S. 261 (2009), is a United States Supreme Court case that was decided in favor of Coeur Alaska's permit to dump mine waste in a lake. The case addressed tailings from the Kensington mine, an underground mine located in Alaska. The gold mine had not operated since 1928, and Coeur Alaska obtained a permit in 2005 from the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to dispose of up to 4.5 million tons of tailings in Lower Slate Lake, which is located in a National Forest.
The suit was filed by three environmental non-governmental organizations and brought before the United States District Court for the District of Alaska who found in favor of Coeur Alaska. The District Court's decision was overturned by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals before being brought before the Supreme Court, who also found in favor of Coeur Alaska.
The ruling was praised by the National Mining Association for the economic benefit it provided. Environmental groups criticised the decision for the impact it would have on Lower Slate Lake, and the opportunity for its use as a precedent in the future. In March 2009 proposed legislation, the Clean Water Protection Act, was introduced in Congress to remove mining waste from the definition of "fill material."Coronation Island Wilderness
Coronation Island Wilderness is a 19,232-acre (7,783 ha) wilderness area in the U.S. state of Alaska. It was designated by the United States Congress in 1980 in a provision of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The wilderness area encompasses the entirety of Coronation Island plus the Spanish Islands. It is part of Tongass National Forest, which is managed by the United States Forest Service.Endicott River Wilderness
Endicott River Wilderness is a 98,729-acre (39,954 ha) wilderness area in the U.S. state of Alaska. Designated by the United States Congress in 1980 in a provision of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, it is located within the Tongass National Forest and is bordered by Glacier Bay Wilderness within Glacier Bay National Park on the west.Icy Bay (Alaska)
Icy Bay is a body of water in Southeast Alaska, formed in the last 100 years by the rapid retreat of the Guyot, Yahtse, and Tyndall Glaciers. It is part of the Wrangell-Saint Elias Wilderness.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the bay entrance was permanently blocked by a giant tidewater glacier face that calved icebergs directly into the Gulf of Alaska. A century-long glacial retreat has opened a multi-armed bay more than 30 miles (48 km) long.
Icy Bay is popular destination for sea kayakers, and is reachable by bush plane from Yakutat, Alaska.Kakuhan Range
The Kakuhan Range is a mountain range in southeastern Alaska, United States, located on the east side of the Lynn Canal south of Haines and north of Berners Bay which in turn is approximately 64 km (40 mi) north of Juneau. The range has an area of 323 km2 (125 sq mi) and is a subrange of the Boundary Ranges which form part of the Coast Mountains.Kates Needle
Kates Needle is a mountain in the Stikine Icecap region of the Alaska-British Columbia border west of the junction of the Stikine River and Porcupine River. The summit has also been known as Boundary Peak 70.Lake Alexander (Alaska)
Lake Alexander is a lake in Southeast Alaska, 3 miles (4.8 km) West of Mole Harbor, on East coast of Admiralty Island; 61 miles (98 km) North-East of Sitka, Alaska in the Alexander Archipelago.The lake was named in the Alexander Alaska Expedition of 1907 for Annie Montague Alexander, founder of the expedition.Mount Alverstone
Mount Alverstone or Boundary Peak 180, is a high peak in the Saint Elias Mountains, on the border between Alaska and Yukon. It shares a large massif with the higher Mount Hubbard to the south and the slightly lower Mount Kennedy to the east. The summit of Mount Alverstone marks a sharp turn in the Alaska/Canada border; the border goes south from this point toward the Alaska panhandle and west toward Mount Saint Elias.
The mountain was named in 1908 for Lord Richard Everard Webster Alverstone, Lord Chief Justice of England, 1900–13, and U.S. Boundary Commissioner in 1903. He served on various arbitration commissions including the one dealing with the Bering Sea Fur seal controversy. In the Alaska boundary dispute in 1903, his vote was the deciding one against Canadian claims.Mount London
Mount London, also known as Boundary Peak 100, 2,326 m (7,631 ft), is a mountain on the Alaska-British Columbia boundary in the Juneau Icefield of the Boundary Ranges of the Coast Mountains, located southwest of Atlin, British Columbia on the border with Haines Borough Alaska. Originally called Mount Atlin, it was renamed in honour of the famous author Jack London (1876–1916).Mount Steller (Chugach Mountains)
Mount Steller is a peak at the far eastern end of the Chugach Mountains of Alaska, United States. It is notable for its isolated location among extensive icefields, and for its large rise above local terrain. For example, it rises 8000 feet (2440 m) above the Bering Glacier to the south in about 4 horizontal miles (6.4 km).
Mount Steller is the high point of Waxell Ridge, an east-west trending ridge on the south side of the Bagley Icefield, one of the largest icefields in North America. The large Bering Glacier flows past the east and south slopes of the ridge, while the Steller Glacier flows from its west side.
The mountain was named for the naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller.
Due to its isolated location, poor weather, and comparatively low absolute elevation by Alaskan standards, Mount Steller was not climbed until recently. The first ascent was in 1992.Petersburg Creek–Duncan Salt Chuck Wilderness
The Petersburg Creek–Duncan Salt Chuck Wilderness is a designated wilderness area located on Kupreanof Island, Alaska, within the Tongass National Forest. The wilderness area protects 46,849 acres of temperate rainforests, salt marsheses and rugged, glacier-carved mountains.Russell Fjord
Russell Fjord is a fjord in the U.S. state of Alaska. It extends north to Disenchantment Bay, the terminus of Hubbard Glacier, at the head of Yakutat Bay. The fjord was named in 1906 by Marcus Baker of the U.S. Geological Survey for explorer Israel Russell, who discovered the estuary in 1891 while exploring the Yakutat region.
The opening into Disenchantment Bay was periodically blocked by the glacier and the Russell Fjord turned into a lake collecting freshwater run-off from the glacier. The entrance closed from May to October 1986, and again briefly in 2002.Sawtooth Range (Alaska)
The Sawtooth Range is a small mountain range in southeastern Alaska, United States, located just southwest of Warm Pass and on the north side of the East Fork of the Skagway River. It has an area of 97 km2 and is a subrange of the Boundary Ranges which in turn form part of the Coast Mountains.Scouting in Alaska
Scouting in Alaska has a long history, from the 1920s to the present day, serving thousands of youth in programs that suit the environment in which they live. Alaska shares a communal Scout history, only being broken into smaller councils in the 1960s.Tongass National Forest
The Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska is the largest national forest in the United States at 16.7 million acres (68,000 km2). Most of its area is part of the temperate rain forest WWF ecoregion, itself part of the larger Pacific temperate rain forest WWF ecoregion, and is remote enough to be home to many species of endangered and rare flora and fauna. The Tongass, which is managed by the United States Forest Service, encompasses islands of the Alexander Archipelago, fjords and glaciers, and peaks of the Coast Mountains. An international border with Canada (British Columbia) runs along the crest of the Boundary Ranges of the Coast Mountains. The forest is administered from Forest Service offices in Ketchikan. There are local ranger district offices located in Craig, Hoonah, Juneau, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Sitka, Thorne Bay, Wrangell, and Yakutat.
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United States panhandles and bootheels