M244 Pacific Coastal Mountains Forest--Meadow Province


Coast Range of southeast Alaska, St. Elias Mountains, Chugach-Kenai Mountains, 40,000 mi2 (103,600 km2)


Land-surface form.--The Coast Mountains rise precipitously from the sea to altitudes of about 9,000 ft (2,700 m), cut by an intricate network of deep, narrow fiords. Farther north, in the rugged St. Elias, Chugach, and Kenai Mountains, elevations range from sea level to more than 16,000 ft (4,900 m). Mount Logan (19,850 ft [6,050 m]) and Mount St. Elias (18,008 ft [5,490 m]) are the second and forth highest peaks on the continent of North America. Icefields and glaciers cover the higher parts of the mountains, forming some of the most extensive valley glacier systems in North America.

Snowfields above valley glaciers near Juneau, Tongass National Forest, Alaska. Snowfields above valley glaciers near Juneau, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Climate.--The marine climate is the same as in Oregon and Washington, except that it has cool summers. Less than 4 months each year have average temperatures higher than 50F (10C). Despite the many glaciers, the climate is surprisingly mild, with average winter temperatures of about 32F (0C) and minimum temperatures of 0F (18C). Summer temperatures average in the 50's (10-15C), with highs in the 90's (32-37C). The growing season lasts 4 months or more. Precipitation is heavy, generally averaging more than 80 in (2,040 mm) annually, with some places getting more than 150 in (3,830 mm). Inland, the climate grows increasingly severe, partly because of rising distance from the ocean, but chiefly due to higher altitude. Topography and high precipitation form so much ice in the mountains that glaciers extend down to sea level despite mild temperatures. Above 3,000 ft (900 m), there is perennial ice, and above 8,000 ft (2,400 m), even summer storms are usually accompanied by snow.

Vegetation.--The most important trees in the thick forest that covers the lower elevations of this province are Alaska-cedar, western hemlock, mountain hemlock, Sitka spruce, several species of willow, and black cottonwood. Several kinds of shrubs also grow in the forest, often forming a fringe on its margins. In many places, the dense vegetation is practically impenetrable.

The timberline is at low elevations, and much of the mountainous area above it is covered with nearly bare rocks, snowfields, and glaciers. Wherever soil has accumulated, however, there are grasses, herbs, and low shrubs. The timberline varies greatly in elevation from place to place, depending on slope exposure and other factors. Near Prince William Sound, for example, the timberline is usually between 1,000 and 2,000 ft (300 and 600 m), but sometimes it drops as low as 500 ft (150 m).

Soils.--Icefields and bare rock or rubble make up about 70 percent of the area. The dominant soils are cool, moist Inceptisols.

Fauna.--Due to the glacial character of the region, Sitka deer do not range into the area, nor do many of the large animals of the interior. The only important large mammals are brown and black bears and mountain goats. The principal small mammals are red squirrels, voles, and shrews.

Birds include some arctic types of water birds, such as murrelets and puffins. Land birds include sooty grouse, white-tailed ptarmigan, and Steller's jay.

There are no reptiles or amphibians.