Sitka Conservation Society

Climate Change in the TongassClimate Change in the Tongass

When attorney and global warming activist, Deborah Williams, came to speak at a Sitka Conservation Society Backwoods and Waters talk in April 2006, she said that Alaska is seeing the catastrophic impacts of global warming more than in any other place in the country. Southeast Alaskans, however, happen to be in the very enviable position of living in one of the world’s greatest carbon sinks. Scientists are finding that old-growth trees, which live in much of the Tongass National Forest, sequester amazing amounts of carbon in their soil. In light of this burgeoning evidence, many see that it’s time the Forest Service reconsider its management plan of the Tongass so that all old-growth trees are left to remain standing forever.


Global Warming 101

Attorney and global warming activist, Deborah Williams, says Alaska is the Paul Revere of global warming, bringing crucial awareness to the nation. Indeed, Alaska is seeing the catastrophic impacts of global warming more than in any other place in the country. We are the ones witnessing the ominous effects of this ever-present warming trend, which makes us the ones conspicuously capable of steering the rest of the country. During the last four decades, Alaska has heated up more than anywhere else in the nation, experiencing an increase of 3-5 degrees Fahrenheit annually and 7-10 degrees F in the winter. With such dramatic increases being played out in our own backyards, it’s no wonder Williams describes global warming as “the greatest threat to mankind!” Because it is very clear in this case that what happens locally is very much on its way to happening globally. But what is happening? Williams says scientists have been seeing the effects of global warming for years, and this is just a small part of what it’s all about:

  • Since 1979, two Texas’ worth of ice at the Arctic ice cap has been lost for species that feed and live in that habitat.
  • The Mendenhall Glacier lost 665 feet in 2004 alone.
  • Alaska has contributed 9% in the global sea level rise, which scientist estimate will rise by 20 feet by the end of the century.
  • Alaska’s wetlands are quickly drying up, and a 20-25% decrease in precipitation is predicted for Southeast Alaska.
  • In 1950, the temperature in Fairbanks started warming up, and the warmer it became the less black and white spruce and birch trees were able to grow. If the trend continues, the interior of Alaska will be grasslands.
  • In SE Alaska, 500,000 acres of Yellow Cedars are dying because of an earlier springtime, leaving roots without snow coverage and exposed to deadly frosts.
  • There is a huge infestation of Sitka Spruce aphids in SE, and the world?s largest spruce bark beetle infestation is occurring on the Kenai Peninsula where 4 million acres of trees have been destroyed.
  • Many diseases thrive in warmer water, causing deadly outbreaks among fish in rivers where temperatures are dramatically rising.

It would appear that global warming deserves much more of our time and energy.

But what exactly is global warming? And what can we do about it?
Global warming is caused by an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide in the earth’s atmosphere. These gases trap specific wavelengths of heat and throw them right back at us. Carbon dioxide is the main concern because it is, in our day and age, such a common by-product. Whenever we burn wood, coal, gas or oil, we are putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This may mean turning on a light, taking a hot shower, running the washing machine, keeping the computer on, or simply starting up the car.

Good news, though, is that there are multiple things that we as Sitkans can do, and one of the most valuable may simply be making sure that no old-growth forests are harvested again, ever. But let’s not limit ourselves to old-growth; let’s recognize the value that every living forest has at controlling and reversing global warming. According to one study, authorities need to consider carbon sequestration in Tongass Forest management. This is especially the case since the Tongass is the largest national forest in the US, and is part of the largest intact old-growth temperate rainforest in the world. Trees play a vital role in climate change by sequestering, or storing, carbon when they absorb carbon dioxide. As a tree grows, it absorbs CO2 from the air and, via photosynthesis, stores the carbon in its roots, branches, stems, and foliage. A living tree is a living “sink” in that it stores more carbon then it releases. By the time a tree reaches maturity, about half of the tree’s dry weight will be carbon! But as soon as a tree dies and decays, it becomes a carbon source. When a forest is harvested, burned or clear-cut, it becomes quite a large source indeed. In fact, as one source put it: “Though most Americans could probably name cars, trucks, and industry as major sources of CO2 emissions, the clearing and degradation of forests actually accounts for approximately 20 percent of annual CO2 emissions worldwide. This is more than the annual CO2 emissions generated in the United States by burning fossil fuels” (Catalyst). Conversely, the nation’s carbon sinks (grasslands, forests and agricultural lands) “absorb 1.1 to 2.6 million metric tons of CO2 each year, which is equivalent to 20 to 46 percent of total U.S. global warming emissions” (Catalyst).

Now is the time to think about what kind of an awesome impact our very own Tongass National Forest can have on global warming. Now is the time to wonder how ethical it would be to allow any more logging of our global treasure.

Check Out These Sources:

1.    Alaska Conservation Solutions, on the web at:
2.    “Effects of Management on Carbon Sequestration in Forest Biomass in Southeast Alaska.” Wayne W. Leighty, Steven P. Hamburg, and John Caouette. Published in Ecosystems 2006.
3.    “Forest Carbon Sequestration.” Michelle Manion. Published in Catalyst: The Magazine of the Union of Concerned Scientists Vol. 3 No. 2 2004.
4.    Sitka Global Warming Group, on the web at:   

Related Posts:

  • Weatherization 101: Caulking with Troop 4140

    Weatherization 101: Caulking with Troop 4140

    Girl Scout Troop 4140 has been learning all about energy during their Get Moving Energy Journey project as they work towards completing the requirements for their badge.  Part of their project was to share what they learn with the community.  In this video, join Girl Scouts from troop 4140 as they demonstrate the proper techniques [...]

    Read more →

  • Weatherization 101: Choosing the Right Type of Caulking for SE Alaska

    Weatherization 101: Choosing the Right Type of Caulking for SE Alaska

    The videos this week will deal with caulking.  Making sure that windows, doors, and seams are caulked and sealed will help save energy and money on home heating.  This video will teach how to choose the right type of caulk. Weatherization 101: Choosing Caulk from Sitka Conservation Society on Vimeo. Weatherization 101 is a six [...]

    Read more →

  • Weatherization 101: Lightbulbs

    Weatherization 101: Lightbulbs

    Girl Scout Troop 4140 has been learning all about energy during their Get Moving Journey, which focuses on energy. The journey consists of three prestigious Girl Scout awards, each containing several projects within itself. In addition to the regular Journey requirements, Junior troop 4140 took an additional task of recording weatherization videos to promote energy [...]

    Read more →

  • The Future of Energy In Sitka

    The Future of Energy In Sitka

    The Sitka Conservation Society released a report  today on the Future of Energy in Sitka that calculates how much energy Sitka uses in a year, how much energy will be needed to sustain the community over the next 20 years, and how much money will be spent on oil if there is not an investment [...]

    Read more →

  • The Better Bargain

    The Better Bargain

    Months have passed with hydroelectric shortage and the City of Sitka Electric Department has warned the community that the risk of having to use supplemental diesel fuel to run the town’s functions is high. In order to let this message sink in a bit further, Utility Director, Christopher Brewton, made this graphic meant to encourage electric users [...]

    Read more →

Follow Us
Get Updates
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for our Newsletter and updates

Take Action Now
Take Action

Keep up to date on all of the issues. Check out "The Southeaster" Blog.

  • Hungry for Huckleberry Pie, Venison Stew, or Fresh Greens? Come to the Wild Foods Potluck Nov. 2!
  • Stand Up to Corporate Influence!
  • Kayaking Kootznoowoo: Report on SCS’s Final Wilderness Trip
  • Encouraging Local Natural Resource Stewardship on the Tongass: Kennel Creek
  • Teaching the Alaska way of Life: 4-H in Sitka
Get Involved
Get Involved