Conifer and deciduous forest types

I’ve spent most of my career studying forests throughout Southeast Alaska. As caretaker at Asx‘ée twisted tree (Eagle River), 1980-92, I studied forest succession on raised former tideland, and post-glacial succession in the valley of L’ux, milky (Herbert River). Later, kayaking took me to the great forests of the southern Tongass. From 1996 to 2005, I was field leader of the Landmark Trees Project, documenting the finest giant-tree stands of our region. And after that, with Bob Christensen, I switched to the Ground-truthing Project, more directly focused on timber issues.

Tall spruce on alluvium of Gaat Héeni, sockeye river (Gartina Creek) near Xuniyaa, lee of the north wind (Hoonah). Red alder grows closer to the channel on more active floodplain.


Well-drained soils eventually support medium to large-tree old-growth forest (left column) that varies mostly according to substrate character; this sequence represents increasingly well drained sites from cedar types to karst large-tree. The right-side column follows a successional series through postlogging and (lastly) post-blowdown development. For more on succession, see Nature>Ecology 101>Succession.

Southeast forests are at the well-drained end of a soil-moisture spectrum. dominating most of those surfaces below subalpine elevations. At the wet end of that spectrum are forests so soggy that delineators map them as jurisdictional wetlands, requiring special permits and mitigative measures. My habitats document, Summit to Sea, treats these communities along with other wetland types.

Even within the ‘dry’ spectrum of forest types, there’s considerable variation in soil drainage, which in turn influences nutrient availability, temperature and rooting depth for plants. Drainage is the principal environmental factor determining both overstory and understory species composition. Poorly-drained forested sites have open canopies, thus drainage indirectly exerts control on light penetration to the understory.

In this section

L’ux, H-word glacier

Journal for my favorite glacial valley A scoping document and collection of journals from 40 years of visits to what…

2020 | Richard Carstensen | 62 pages

Nature near the schools: Natural communities

Powerpoint & script for Discovery Nature Studies One of my educational mentors, a charismatic high school teacher, when hearing of…

1990 | Richard Carstensen | powerpoint & script

Digital Fish Creek

Hydrology in the point cloud. Maybe it’s all those years stippling scenes and species portraits, point by point with double-ought…

2020 | Richard Carstensen | 2-minute slideshow

Meadow fire at Eagle Beach

Burn succession, Asx‘ée, twisted tree On May 9th, 2020, some camper-kids with lighters ignited a pretty dramatic grassfire at Crow…

2020 | Richard Carstensen | 14-page journal, 6-minute slideshow

Staney Creek

Stream work documentation on Tàan, sea lion (Prince of Wales Island) The Nature Conservancy, US Forest Service, and dozens of…

2020 | Richard Carstensen | 19 minute slideshow

Chilkat journal, 20190706-08

A first visit with LCC In July, 2019, Jessica Plachta, director of Lynn Canal Conservation, offered to host my family…

2019 | Richard Carstensen | 61 pages

False Island journal 20080806

Four years into the Ground-truthing Project, Bob Christensen and I helped explore northern Shee Ká, above Shee (Peril Strait). This…

2008 | Richard Carstensen | 70 pages

Tree hunting manual

The Tongass needs 50 athletes with ground-truthing skills, to range the timberlands each summer by bike, skiff, 4-wheeler and kayak,…

2018 | Richard Carstensen | 14 pages

Ground-truthing Project final report, 2005

The Ground-truthing Project, sponsored by Sitka Conservation Society, ran from 2005 to 2010. Kenyon Fields at SCS administered the program,…

2005 | Carstensen & Christensen | 63 pages

2008 flight over Sitka use area

In September, 2008, I ferried to Sitka to help Sitka Conservation Society host funders and biologists. In a Beaver, we…

2008 | Richard Carstensen | 29 pages

Suitability for logging

In 2009, after several years of cruising the Tongass timberlands under the auspices of Sitka Conservation Society, I wrote them…

2009 | Richard Carstensen | 19 pages

2013 flight to south Tàan (POW)

In June, 2013. I got a chance to fly to Teey Tahéen, (West Arm Kendrick Bay), under Gijòok Shàa, golden…

2013 | Richard Carstensen | 11 page excerpt

2003 winter newsletter: A deer’s map of the forest

New ideas about forest structure Seeing the forest through a deer’s eyes. Thoughts on forest structure and habitat values, resulting…

Winter 2003 | Richard Carstensen | 12 pages

Community Landmark Trees : Petersburg

Interpretive guide to Ohmer Creek Community Landmark Trees area south of Petersburg. Part 1 is a step-by-step guide to trees…

2004 | Richard Carstensen | 22 pages

Northern Baranof Island: Past, present, and future

Reflections from our 2007 field surveys of northern Shee, volcano woman (Baranof Island). Covers history of logging in the province,…

2007 | Bob Christensen|Richard Carstensen | 12 pages

Forest restoration in the Tongass: Why, how, and where

Bob’s summary for The Wilderness Society. Techniques and strategies. Download here (8MB): †

2012 | Bob Christensen | 71 Pages

Succession illustration

This info sheet explains how a forest changes as it matures from emerging forest to old growth. Download info sheet…

2015 | 1 Page

Community Landmark Trees: Ketchikan

Interpretive guide to Ward Lake Community Landmark Trees area north of Ketchikan. Part 1 is a step-by-step guide to trees…

2004 | Richard Carstensen | 22 pages

Landmark Trees of Áak’w & T’aakú Aaní

Northern challenges As you might expect, our highest-scoring Landmark Tree stands are on the central and southern Tongass. But we‚’ve…

Community Landmark Trees: Sitka

Interpretive guide to Gavan Hill Community Landmark Trees area near Sitka. Part 1 is a step-by-step guide to trees along…

2004 | Richard Carstensen | 22 pages