The Landmark Trees Project was an effort to find, describe and understand the most magnificent remaining forests of Southeast Alaska. Founded by Sam Skaggs, the project documented 76 one-acre sites across the Tongass between 1996 and 2005. At that point, with naturalist Bob Christensen, I shifted gears to the Ground-truthing Project.

Landmark Tree sites are scored according to dimensions of the largest tree and wood volume of the surrounding acre. They’re also assessed for ecological values such as winter deer and summer bear habitat. The project involved Alaskans from Ketchikan to Hoonah. We found trees up to 11 feet in diameter, and 250 feet tall. Our highest scoring stand is on limestone bedrock (karst), but most of our sites grow on stream and river deposits (alluvium).

The Knight family with the largest known tree on Mitkof Island, on Ohmer Creek.

Most of those streams have salmon, and therefore, of course, bears. Our search took us far from beaches and roads, into the most remote and sensitive bear concentrations of the Tongass. Most of our highest-scoring stands are feeding places for brown or black bears that rarely encounter people in those areas, and we don’t want that to change. Locations of many LT sites are not made public. So how can Landmark Trees be shared and experienced by residents and visitors?

In discussions with the Forest Service and Southeast conservation groups, we identified several Landmark Tree sites appropriate for recreational and educational use. While our highest-scoring LT sites are typically remote and sensitive, we’ve also assessed, mapped, and intensively studied several impressive one-acre stands on trails near Ketchikan, Petersburg, Kake, and Sitka. These Community Landmark Tree Stands already received heavy use by residents, long before the LT project documented them, so we felt that impacts from any additional visitation (root compaction from off-trail exploration, wildlife displacement, etc.) would be counterbalanced by greater community and tourist appreciation of the forest. In 2000-2001, with funding from the Leighty Foundation and the Alaska Conservation Foundation, we created interpretive booklets for these Community LT Stands:

Screengrabs from 2 short vimeo clips posted by Carson Hauk, TNC. Although each lasts only 7 seconds, you can get a feeling for the information packed into LiDAR elevation models. Above is from my raven’s-eye tour of the Rio Beaver-Thorne River confluence. Below is Carson’s reconstruction in the point cloud. Every tree and bush can be measured with extreme precision.

Community Landmark Trees: Kake

Community Landmark Trees: Petersburg

Community Landmark Trees: Sitka

Community Landmark Trees: Ketchikan

Although I haven’t conducted a full Landmark Trees (LT) assessment since 2005, I love hearing reports of giant-tree forests from anywhere on the Tongass. My ‘wish list’ of Southeast mega-stands still unseen by LT hunters is considerably longer than the list of surveyed stands. Meanwhile, evolving technologies and political realities are changing ‘the game’ (albeit a deadly one) for tall-tree detection and protection in Lingít  Aaní. Wherever LiDAR has been commissioned, it’s now possible for cartographers to sit at their desks and measure tree heights to the nearest foot. Here, for example are 2 views of Landmark Tree stand #69 near the logging town of Thorne Bay, on Tàan, sea lion (Prince of Wales Island). Although my original measurements in 2002 were with clinometer and laser rangefinder, we can now map every tree more accurately from our computers.

Some of the LiDAR-empowered mappers work for timber companies.

Should this change our policy about whether or not to publicize locations of the 76 existing Landmark Tree stands? Threats come not only from logging—for example proposals to privatize still more public land—but also from inadvisable human visitation in core bear country. Between 1996 and 2005, LT policy decisions were made by an informal Landmark Trees ‘kitchen cabinet.’ Perhaps its time to reconvene that pumpkin-huggers party?

A photo of the largest tree so far found by the Landmark Trees Project, on karst, is in my description for Kuiu biogeographic province.

In this section

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Besse-Cowee journal, 2011

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2011 | Richard Carstensen | 13 pages

Tree hunting manual

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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

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

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

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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

Community Landmark Trees: Kake

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

2004 | Richard Carstensen | 22 pages