My Turn: Board of Game should consider growing wildlife tourism industry

Posted: Thursday, November 25, 2010

Of the 48 proposals in the Southeast Region Meeting Board of Game proposal book, at least six directly called for increased opportunities for wildlife viewing. Other proposals did so indirectly. Of these six proposals, four failed, no action was taken on two and one passed as amended.

Here are excerpts of statements taken from five of these six proposals; these excerpts taken from answers to the standard proposal submittal question "Who is likely to benefit (from the submitted proposal)?":

• "Large numbers of the traveling public, school groups, educators and the local economy."

• "Locals and visitors who enjoy viewing wildlife would benefit. It will also insure the continued economic benefit of local businesses who conduct tours of the area. It makes sense for the state of Alaska to be proactive in managing the resources for everyone, to designate the acreage around an advertised and popular bear-viewing platform to be exempt to bear hunting. Thus providing the overwhelming majority of the Traitor's Cove/Marguerite visitors, who are not bear hunters, a designated place to enjoy bear viewing in safety and peace and the protection of this resource for the continuance of the bear-viewing industry."

• "All sightseers who are the major user group in Rudyerd Bay and Walker Cove would benefit."

• "The bear population will benefit and so too local residents and visitors who like to view bears, and the economy in Southeast that has become dependent upon the tourism industry, the anchor industry in most Southeast communities now that timber is not."

• "... Keep in mind that the influx of cruise ship visitors in Southeast Alaska pay a lot of money for the thrill of seeing a bear. Ketchikan alone gets about 900,000 visitors per summer spending approximately $35 million to glimpse a bear. ... The local residents who rely on the health of our economy for everyday living. Tourism has replaced timber as the main industry throughout SE Alaska."

It is no secret the timber industry is declining in Southeast. Simultaneously, the hunting industry is declining. What alternative is available? The answer is clear - wildlife tourism. According to the Department of the Interior, in 2006, the total amount spent in Alaska on hunting was $124 million and declining, whereas the total amount spent on wildlife viewing in Alaska was $58 million and growing. Indeed, the wildlife tourism market in our state is composed of 18 percent consumptive use and a whopping 82 percent nonconsumptive use. In the Lower 48, nonconsumptive use of wildlife is enjoyed by more than 62 million people with an annual expenditure of $29 billion - and this amount is growing by 6 percent to 10 percent annually.

In the early 1900s, it was thought predators had no value in ecosystems and they were, in fact, considered nuisances. Recent findings, however, have changed our views of the role predators play in our ecosystems and in our lives. For example, in a 2006 report, CNN reported that the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone expanded ecotourism by $35 million.

Fewer than 20 percent of eligible Alaskans and fewer than 15 percent of citizens nationwide hold hunting licenses and this percentage is dropping annually. Meanwhile, the demand for wildlife viewing opportunities is increasing annually. This is reflected in the many proposals in this cycle's Southeast region proposal book that seek to conserve wildlife, many with the express purpose of fostering our strong, and growing, wildlife tourism industry. It is now understood a trophy brown bear, for instance, rather than being shot and killed one time, can be viewed thousands of times by the growing number of people who willingly pay a great deal of money simply to see it over and over again.

It is time the Board of Game recognizes the changing population it actually represents - not only in Southeast Alaska, but statewide, and that decisions made by the board take the wildlife tourism industry into more serious consideration.

• Brown is president of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance's Southeast Chapter and is a Juneau resident.

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