HomeEducationSustainability EducationSummer in the Alaskan Rainforest

Summer in the Alaskan Rainforest

By Kylli Anderson

Hello! My name is Kylli Anderson and I am currently finishing up a degree in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology here at the U of M. This past summer, I was able to work for the U.S. Forest Service (through the Juneau Forestry Sciences Laboratory) where I was a Tongass-Wide Young Growth Studies (aka TWYGS) Wildlife and Botany Field Research Intern stationed on Prince of Wales Island in the temperate rainforests of Southeast Alaska. I was part of a 9-person crew that was tasked with collecting vital vegetation regeneration data for a 30-year ongoing project working to further understand post-clearcut regeneration processes and how

wildlife habitats function after disruption. First, here’s a little backstory on the Tongass National Forest: This 17-million-acre stretch of land is the largest national forest in the United States, and it has been continuously exploited by the U.S. Forest Service since the day it was established. From the 1950s to present day, more than 1 million acres have been clearcut, and roughly half of the forest’s large old-growth trees were logged in the last century. Now, forest researchers are testing different treatment methods in hopes of finding a way to speed up the regeneration process so that these wondrous forests are able to return to all of their natural glory as quickly as possible and resustain the plethora of flora and fauna that they support.

This summer, our crew focused on the actively regenerating young-growth of 25-year-old clear-cut sites, where we would bushwhack for hours through the dense Alaskan jungle in order to identify and record understory vascular plant cover and overstory tree characteristics within treatments that were implemented 25 years ago. To do this, we embarked on 8-day hitches to complete field sites all around the Tongass, including some remote sites that we accessed via float plane and boat rides across oceanic channels. We worked and camped in wet, remote environments that required off-trail travel through steep terrain, dense vegetation, and slash. On these hitches, we’d wake up at 7am and pull on our soggy clothes from the day before, zip into our still-damp (and incredibly stinky) rain gear, lace up our logger boots, and throw on our hard hats, vests, goggles, and leather gloves before heading into the bush to complete another 10 hour day in the field. These long days were full of running (crawling) 100+ meter transects, taking DBHs of overstory trees (Sitka spruces, western and mountain hemlocks, western white cedar and yellow cedars, shore pines), identifying understory plants, and hunting down tagged alders.

So basically, it was a forestry-lover’s dream! While some days were filled with rain and misery, most field days passed by quickly, as they were filled with inside jokes, beautiful views, an abundance of wild berries, rare plants, and our shared love for the wondrous Alaskan rainforest. This challenging yet incredibly rewarding experience truly changed the trajectory of my career aspirations, as I fell even more deeply in love with the intricate dynamics present in forest ecosystems, and now hope to study them further throughout my life. 🙂

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