Héen Latinee Experimental Forest
The 12,000 ha Héen Latinee Experimental Forest (HLEF), established in 2009, is the newest among the 83 experimental forests and ranges in the Forest Service system. It is one of only two experimental forests located within the perhumid Pacific coastal temperate rainforest, and is unique in encompassing two watersheds from glaciated headwaters to a tidal estuary. HLEF is collaboratively managed by the US Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station (PNW), Region 10 of the US Forest Service (USFS), the University of Alaska Southeast (UAS), and the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA; to read the full MOU click here).
Experimental forests are regions of forest designated as natural laboratories. In such a varied and large bioregion, no one location can include all ecosystem components or interactions; however HLEF encompasses a large representation of the dominant land forms, vegetation and fauna. Héen Latinee, which means "River Watcher" in the Tlingit language, comprises two forested valleys, ranging in elevation from 1,770 meters to sea level. This range provides the opportunity to study trends along elevational gradients and the impact of global warming on hydrology, forest structure and ecosystem processes from sea level to the alpine. Glacier coverage in HLEF is currently about 15% and the largest glacier is the Cowee Glacier at ~9.6 km2 in area. Cowee Creek watershed, the largest in HLEF at 7900 ha, extends from the edge of the Juneau Icefield in the Coast Mountains to southern Berners Bay in Lynn Canal. Davies Creek watershed is smaller at 4100 ha, and drains into the Cowee Creek watershed near the western border of the Experimental Forest. Both watersheds are characteristic of the thousands of moderately sized watersheds that drain the Coast Mountains of Alaska and British Columbia in the PPCTR region. They encompass perennial snowfields, alpine meadows, spruce-hemlock forest, sloped peatlands, and extensive valley-bottom wetlands. Brown and black bears (Ursus arctos and U. americanus) coexist with wolverines (Gulo gulo) and wolves (Canis lupus) in this area, and mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) range the ridges. Marten (Martes americana), beaver (Castor canadensis), moose (Alces alces), deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and other wildlife are abundant in the forests and wetlands. Cowee and Davies creeks support populations of five species of salmon and trout (Oncorhynchus spp.) as well as Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma). At its mouth, Cowee Creek forms a delta and eventually empties into Berners Bay, which is a nursery ground for many marine species such as eulachon and herring, and heavily used by whales, pinnipeds, and waterfowl.
Currently HLEF has little infrastructure to support field work, which is complicated by difficult access and terrain. However, summer 2015 saw the installation of two weather stations at HLEF, along with power and communications equipment. Although it is a new addition to the experimental forest network and our research programs are just beginning, we expect that future years will bring an increasing number of scientists and students to take advantage of the unique opportunities to study this coastal margin forest ecosystem in the face of climate change and resource development. With that in mind, ACRC is working with its partners to develop research infrastructure at HLEF, starting with a small facility to serve as bunkhouse and workspace. Below are preliminary site plans for this facility (thanks to Corvus Design):
To read more about Héen Latinee, please visit the Pacific Northwest Research Station website.