Icy Strait - Cross Sound Province
Glacier Bay is the principal tributary to Icy Strait-Cross Sound, a large passage that links the northern waters of the Alexander Archipelago to the open sea. Secondary inlets join this waterway from the north and south. At its western margin, Cross Sound broadens out into a complex of small fjords and offshore islets that face the open sea.
Icy Strait - Cross Sound and its complex of tributary inlets provide a wide array of open waters and sheltered estuaries with an equally wide array of water depths and bottom types. Consequently the area hosts important concentrations of a variety of marine species, notably halibut, salmon and Tanner crab, humpback whales, harbor porpoises and marbled murrelets. The recently reintroduced sea otter is thriving. Being along the northern terminus of sheltered waterways extending almost unbroken to Seattle, this waterway is a major conduit for animal movements into and out of southeast Alaska waters, as it is for transient vessel traffic as well. These waters have been major commercial fishing grounds for over a century. Sightseeing, sport fishing and ecotourism are rapidly increasing activities.
Mainland portions of the province west of Glacier Bay are at present dominated by the Brady Glacier. Unlike Glacier Bay ice, the Brady is near its Little Ice Age limits, directly covering much land with ice, and indirectly influencing many valleys and inlets around its periphery with outwash and melt water. Other lands in the province have, with minor exception, been uninfluenced by ice for 13,000 years. A rich array of mature plant communities have developed on these older lands, including major tracts of luxuriant old-growth forest that host substantial deer and brown bear populations. Mainland plant communities, though generally younger, are far richer in mammal species, due to the difficulty of crossing the water barrier posed by Icy Strait.
Most of the mainland is in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Most lands to the south, along with islands in Icy Strait and a strip along the Park's eastern margin, are included within the Tongass National Forest. Private lands are extensive around Hoonah and to a lesser degree along Excursion Inlet. Logging is prohibited on protected National Forest lands in the western half and eastern extremity of this province. Nearly every other valley of the remainder of the National Forest has been roaded and logged to some degree. Native corporation lands have been very heavily logged.
The largely Tlingit community of Hoonah, with a population of about 1,000, has traditionally been based on fishing and subsistence gathering. During the last two decades, however, timber harvesting has provided an additional sector to its economy. Primarily during summer, a few hundred people reside along Excursion Inlet. Many of these seasonal residents work at the large fish processing facility. Elfin Cove is a fishing and tourism community of less than 100 people on the southeast margin of Cross Sound.