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Southeast Alaska, sometimes referred to as the Alaska Panhandle, is the southeastern portion of the U.S. state of Alaska, which lies west of the northern half of the Canadian province of British Columbia. The majority of Southeast Alaska's area is part of the Tongass National Forest, the United States' largest national forest. In many places, the international border runs along the crest of the Boundary Ranges of the Coast Mountains (see Alaska boundary dispute). The region is noted for its mild rainy climate and beautiful scenery.
Southeast Alaska is the northern terminus of the Inside Passage, a protected waterway of convoluted passages between islands and fjords, beginning in Puget Sound in Washington state. This was an important travel corridor for Tlingit and Haida Native peoples, as well as gold-rush era steamships. In modern times it is an important route for Alaska Marine Highway ferries as well as cruise ships. Southeast Alaska has a land area of 35,138 miles (56,549 km)(sq), comprising six entire boroughs and three census areas, in addition to the portion of the Yakutat Borough lying east of 141° West longitude. Although it has only 6.14 percent of Alaska's land area, it is larger than the state of Maine, and almost as large as the state of Indiana. The Southeast Alaskan coast is roughly as long as the west coast of Canada. The 2000 census population of Southeast was 72,954 inhabitants, about 42 percent of whom were concentrated in the city of Juneau.
It includes the Tongass National Forest, Glacier Bay National Park, Admiralty Island National Monument, Misty Fjords National Monument, Alaska's Inside Passage, and myriad large and small islands. The largest islands are, from North to South, Chichagof Island, Admiralty Island, Baranof Island, Kupreanof Island, Revillagigedo Island and Prince of Wales Island. Major bodies of water of Southeast Alaska include Glacier Bay, Lynn Canal, Icy Strait, Chatham Strait, Stephens Passage, Frederick Sound, Sumner Strait, and Clarence Strait.
Southeast Alaska is a temperate rain forest within the Pacific temperate rain forest zone, as classified by the World Wildlife Fund's ecoregion system, which extends from northern California to Prince William Sound. The most common tree species are sitka spruce and western hemlock. Wildlife includes brown bears, black bears, the endemic Alexander Archipelago wolf, Sitka black-tailed deer, humpback whales, orcas, five species of salmon, bald eagles, harlequin ducks, scoters, and marbled murrelets.
Major cities are Juneau, Ketchikan, and Sitka. Other towns are Petersburg, Wrangell, Metlakatla, Haines, Hoonah, Angoon, Kake, Craig, Klawock, Thorne Bay, Yakutat, Skagway, and Gustavus. There are also many towns and villages with under 100 people, such as Baranof Warm Springs, Edna Bay, Elfin Cove, Excursion Inlet, Hyder, Meyers Chuck, Pelican, Port Alexander, Port Frederick, Port Protection, and Tenakee Springs.
This area is the traditional homeland of the Tlingit people, and home of a historic settling of Haida as well as a modern settlement of Tsimshian. The region is closely connected to Seattle and the American Pacific Northwest economically and culturally.
Major industries in Southeast Alaska include commercial fishing and tourism (primarily the cruise ship industry). Logging has been an important industry in the past, but has been steadily declining with competition from other areas and the closure of the region's major pulp mills.
The border between the Canadian province of British Columbia and Alaska is known as the Alaska boundary dispute, where the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom and British Columbia claimed different borderlines at the Alaskan Panhandle. While the British foreign affairs were in favour of support of the Canadian argument, the event resulted in what was thought of as a betrayal, leading to alienation of the British from the new nation of Canada.
Due to the extremely rugged, mountainous nature of Southeastern Alaska, almost all communities (with the exception of Hyder, Skagway, and Haines) have no road connections outside of their locale, so aircraft and boats are the major means of transport. The Alaska Marine Highway passes through this region.
Alaska Airlines is by far the largest air carrier in the region, with Juneau's Juneau International Airport serving as the aerial hub for all of Southeast and Ketchikan's Ketchikan International Airport serving as a secondary hub for southern Southeast Alaska. Alaska's bush airlines and air taxis serve many of the smaller and more isolated communities and villages in the regions.
Southeast Alaska is primarily served by the state-run Alaska Marine Highway and secondarily by the Prince of Wales Island-based Inter-Island Ferry Authority. Small companies like Sitka-based Allen Marine and other independent operators in the Lynn Canal occasionally also offer marine passenger service. Ship traffic in the area is seasonally busy with cruise ships.