Tongass National Forest, National Geographic Magazine: Coastal Rainforest Researcher

Researchers studying the brown bear navigate by boat through driving rain on the Unuk River in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. The region receives more than two hundred inches of rain each year.

Brown bears are one of the special features of the Tongass so there is interest in their behavior and range. The decline in the range and numbers in the lower 48 states has heightened management concern and an increased interest in habitat-related studies. Studies show brown bears avoid clearcuts and are more often found in riparian old growth, wetland, and alpine/subalpine habitat because of more nutritious foraging and better cover.

The Unuk Study Area is part of Misty Fiords National Monument and classified as wilderness. Because of this, no helicopters are allowed, making primary access by boat since no roads exist. Located 100 km northeast of Ketchikan, the Unuk River, which means “Dream River” in the native Tlingit language, flows from the Canadian border to salt water. Although much of the main river channel is too deep and glacial for bears to fish, the river contains several clear tributaries with spawning salmon.

Besides the brown bear, scientists with Alaska and U.S. Fish and Game make their way into isolated areas to study a variety of wildlife—wolves, black bears, salmon, deer, and marbled murrelets.

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