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My turn: Southeast Alaska visitors play key role in our economy

Posted: October 9, 2012 - 11:00pm

Southeast Alaskans might not think day to day about the economic value of the Tongass National Forest – our backyard, where we hunt, fish, guide and recreate. But over a million people travel from all across the country and the world to explore the Tongass every year and while here they spend a lot of money. So what is the value of the Tongass National Forest to the visitor industry? My organization, Alaska Wilderness League, contracted the McDowell Group to find out.

According to the study, the visitor industry adds nearly $1 billion to the Southeast Alaska economy annually and provides about 20 percent of all employment. Although putting an exact dollar amount on it isn’t possible, data from the McDowell Group shows that the Tongass National Forest in its natural state has obvious value to the visitor industry. Out of 25 tourism activities for Southeast Alaska measured in the report, the majority involve experiencing outdoor activities: wildlife viewing, hiking and nature walks, flightseeing, fishing and more.

The takeaway message for me is that areas of the Tongass that are most important to the visitor industry, as well as locals, deserve to be left in their natural state, not only for their intrinsic value, but for the dollars and cents that they generate for Southeast Alaskans.

We have an opportunity to manage the Tongass in a way that will help grow forest-dependent jobs for the future, jobs in industries such as tourism, fishing and timber. To date, we have over 100 guides and outfitters that support the sustainable management of the forest on www.TourTheTongass.org. From my discussions with guides and outfitters, sustainable management of the Tongass makes good business sense.

The U.S. Forest Service has initiated what is known as the Transition Plan. The intent is to help support and grow jobs in Southeast Alaska, with the visitor industry being one of its many areas of focus. The transition plan will take time to fine tune and implement, but it’s a great step in the right direction to grow Southeast Alaska’s economy by managing the Tongass National Forest in a way that recognizes the value of the forest to its many user groups. It’s my hope that implementing the Transition Plan will become a priority for the U.S. Forest Service here in Southeast.

• Morehouse is the Southeast Alaska Outreach Coordinator for the Alaska Wilderness League.

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