One of our popular guided activities here at Tutka Bay Lodge is hiking our trail system out the backdoor. The lodge owns 12 acres of property and leases an additional 20 acres on the adjacent peninsular headland from the State of Alaska.
These 20 acres are untouched, virgin old-growth forest. Our trailhead starts on the beach, but the ecosystem transforms instantly to a luxurious, temperate rainforest. This transition takes guests’ breath away – the expanse of 200’ tall, 300 year old Sitka Spruce giants, the undergrowth alive and thick with fields of fern and layer upon spongy layer of sphagnum moss.
A closer look at this preserved ecosystem shows how interlaced and utterly connected it all is. The 300 year old Sitka Spruce canopy provides the cover that the lush ferns and mosses need to thrive, and the bits of dappled sunlight flickering to the forest floor allow for another assortment of species to flourish: Devil’s Club, Sitka Alder, and blueberry. The interspersed standing dead trees provide habitat for an assortment of cavity nesting birds, animals and fungi. The fallen logs, especially once the bacteria and fungi have their way with them, provide the ideal growing medium for the next generation of spruce. Thus the cycle continues.
It seems like in this day and age, there are few places still untouched by chainsaws and the hand of man. This forest is one of the now rare habitats that likely provide nesting habitat for a seabird called the Marbled Murrelet.
The smart little buggers, much to the surprise of researchers, nest in the tree tops of the great Sitka Spruce, tucked into the naturally growing clumps of moss high in the canopy. Although a fabulous idea in theory – perhaps the equivalent of a premade Posturepedic nest – the habitat requirements for this arrangement are 150+ year old Sitka Spruce groves.
These old growth stands of trees, sadly, are in steep decline in the Pacific Northwest. Consequently the Murrelet numbers continue to decline and they are currently listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Yet another example of species’ inter-dependencies, forest complexity, and thus the necessity to protect and preserve these existing areas.
So as we guide our guests through our backyard forest, we hope to teach, to inform and hopefully to instill a greater understanding, knowledge and therefore appreciation of these complex ecosystems. It starts there – with knowledge and understanding.