Alaskan Rainforest: Ecology and Policy of the Tongass
Dates: June 28-July 30, 2013
Cost: $5975 (Compare Costs Here)
Semester Credits: 6
GENERAL COURSE PLAN:
Southeast Alaska is a land of extremes. A place where steep-sloped islands meet glacially carved fjords. A place where old growth spruce and hemlock forests compete with ancient bogs for available land. In the stillness of night, the howls of wolves can be heard echoing through ancient forests and the myriad colors of the northern lights blanket the sky. Blueberry, sphagnum moss and devil's club abound. And while plant life is prolific, the soils, due to recently retreated glaciers, are treacherously thin and prone to bedrock-exposing slides. With an ecology similar to that of the Pacific Northwest, though more restricted due to its northern latitude, southeast Alaska is a lush, wet place. Here, hundreds of miles of forested coastline make this outdoor classroom a true wilderness exploration.
The Scandinavians that settled in this region remarked on how much the fjords looked like home. In these glacially-fed waters, five different species of wild Pacific salmon still run in large numbers. In addition, populations of orcas, porpoises, seals, humpback whales, and myriad waterfowl all call these rocky coves and sounds their home. Buffered from the open ocean by islands, the waters are mostly calm and only show their connection to the sea by their diurnal tides, which can be extreme. In some places, low tides unveil several hundred yards of hidden intertidal zones, replete with barnacles, mussels, rockweed, limpets and chitons. Mink, marten, river otter and both black and brown bears take advantage of this bountiful buffet, illustrating the native Tlingit saying, "When the tide is low, the table is set."
Though this vast temperate rainforest is the largest and most intact of any in the northern hemisphere, it is not without its pressures. One reason is that southeast Alaska is dominated by the Tongass National Forest, which, at nearly 17 million acres, covers more than 80 percent of the bioregion. Since "southeast" is largely federal land, conflict over uses of its resources has always been at the core of its identity, and has made it a lightning rod for public lands debates on both local and national scales. Historically, there have been demands for large-scale timber harvest, commercial fishing and cruise ship access, as well as demands for conservation, wilderness designation and small-scale ecotourism.
This six-credit course takes place in the heart of the Tongass and is designed to immerse you in the landscape and the issues affecting it. We will travel by kayak, hike in the rainforest and camp every night on the beach. We will study terrestrial and marine environments as well as public lands policy and administration. Study of the ecological topics is meant to give you a firm understanding of the natural processes that take place in a temperate rainforest ecosystem, while study of the public lands issues gives students a detailed picture of the impact of human activity on the region – both historically and in the present day. An underlying theme throughout the course will be exploring the intricacies and ramifications of various cultural “land ethics” within the region, which is meant to lay a bedrock of understanding to work from as we study the practice of cultivating deep connections to place.
Students and instructors will meet in Bellingham, Washington, and the course will begin when we board the ferry for Wrangell, Alaska. After an almost two-day journey up the Inside Passage, we will disembark, slide into our kayaks and head into the backcountry! We will take two approximately two-week excursions, paddling more than 200 miles to see such things as the southernmost tidewater glacier in the northern hemisphere and a large salmon spawning creek where bears come to feed. In addition, we will meet up with several guest speakers along the way, providing a unique and intimate opportunity to learn directly from the people who live in this contested landscape.
Readings for the class include works by John Muir, Charles Wilkinson, Barry Lopez, Aldo Leopold, Richard Nelson, Jack Turner, Wallace Stegner, and William Cronon, to name a few. Students will engage directly with the ecology, policy, and politics of southeast Alaska's remote and stunning temperate rainforest through projects, journaling, field research and nautical wilderness travel.
ENROLLMENT & DEADLINE:
Enrollment will be limited to ten  students. Our courses are multidisciplinary and our students come from all majors. There are no academic prerequisites for any of our courses. The best background is a sense of curiosity, a willingness to take responsibility for your academic growth, and a love of adventure. No prior backcountry experience is necessary, but this is a physically demanding course and students are advised to arrive good physical condition.
WRFI accepts students on a rolling admission basis and will review applications immediately upon receiving them. Currently, WRFI is accepting applications for all 2013 summer and fall courses.
The first payment of 25% of tuition will be due three weeks after acceptance.
$5975 per student includes tuition, use of sea kayaks and related equipment; group camping and cooking gear; dinners; and incidental fees (maps, nautical charts, study guides, etc.). Students will be expected to provide their own breakfast and lunch meals, and to print the course text (approx. $40). Students will also have to purchase their ferry tickets (including transport of one kayak) from Bellingham to Wrangell and the return from Petersburg, which costs approximately $600. An additional $270 filing fee is required to receive academic credit for the course from the University of Montana.