For the better part of thirty seven years I've been blessed to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I know that every area has it's own brand of beauty, but for me, this area of Alaska, the Tongass National Forest has no equal. It has the best of all worlds for me- forests, streams, bays, mountains all things that I love. Because of the remoteness of the area and the difficulty of getting around, there isn't a large population inhabiting the surrounding towns. The whole 17,000,000 acres is only home to roughly 70,000 people, and those are spread out over a handful of towns up and down the Southeast Panhandle. At thirty some thousand souls, Juneau, the state capital, is the largest town. Some of the other towns with relatively large populations are Ketchikan, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. Then we have Craig, Hydaburg, Tenekee, Angoon, Hoonah, Kake, Metlakatla, Thorne Bay, Gustavus, Elfin Cove and Pelican. I'm sure there are others that I'm forgetting, but obviously, population wise, none of them are all that large. There are also a number of little settlements that may not have a proper name or post office- the Hobbit Hole out in the Inian Islands and Excursion Inlet, across Icy Strait. It started off with a couple of canneries there, now there are two or three fishing lodges and a number of cabins that folks have built up against the mountainside. Back in the years before Alaska was a state there were dozens of canneries up and down the coast with transient populations. Once fish traps were outlawed, many of the canneries were abandoned, leaving behind buildings and machinery to rot in the wet environment.
Here on Chichagof Island, where Hoonah is located, I think we have one of the largest Brown Bear populations in the world with roughly one per square mile. That's a lot more bears than there are people here. The Tongass is largest national forest in the country, about seventeen million acres,with over five million designated wilderness. I guess because it's a national forest, many people feel like they should have a say in what happens here. It's both interesting and frustrating to hear different views on what should be going on here, mostly by people who don't live here and have only the slightest idea of what life is about in a rain forest. I've listened to loggers who've wanted to mow down every tree and environmentalists who want everyone to get back to nature. I don't know if they wipe their behinds with corn cobs or nettles or if they break down and buy toilet paper. We get cruise lines in here who act like they discovered Alaska- if it were up to some of them there would be a jewelry store and tee shirt shop on every point. Many folks would just like for things to return to the way it used to be and others would like to see roads connecting every town up and down the panhandle. It's a balancing act, and one that I hope continues for at least as long as I live. We need some roads and some logging and some tourism. Like everyone else we want good jobs and opportunities to pursue happiness without having to sacrifice our way of life. I hope we never have a government that leans too far one way or another in managing the Tongass. I suppose as long as everyone is unhappy to some extent, things are going just the way they should be.