Alaska is like no other place on earth. It is often referred to as America’s last great wilderness. With its rugged terrain and rich history, our state draws thousands of visitors each year. People come here to get a glimpse of the majestic landscapes that Alaskans experience year round: magnificent glaciers, vast forests, endless numbers of rivers and lakes and especially our incredible wildlife. Indeed, our native species are important to both residents and visitors alike.
Just last week, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game released a new and important report on the economic value of wildlife in the state, and the results are clear: Alaska’s wildlife provides a major benefit. While this is no surprise to those of us who live here and to the visitors who travel to our state, it is an important and extremely valuable report since it clearly quantifies the value of wildlife to all user groups and clearly states just how economically valuable our wildlife populations are to everyone.
The study, “The Economic Importance of Alaska’s Wildlife in 2011,” is similar to other economic reports performed in the western United States. It investigated quality of life, money spent in the state and job creation. The report showed that 65% of Alaska residents polled in 2011 thought that wildlife was either “extremely important” or “very important” to their quality of life. Residents and visitors spent over $2 billion on wildlife viewing activities in 2011. And the wildlife viewing industry in Alaska generated nearly 19,000 jobs that year. Our wildlife has a significant positive impact, both on Alaska residents and communities and on our economy. And that means ensuring healthy populations of our wildlife remain intact is an important investment in our state.
In my work as Alaska program director for Defenders of Wildlife, I have seen the power of citizens who make their voices heard on issues like supporting healthy wildlife, but there’s still more to be done. This report provides wildlife advocates an independent and objective set of data to continue to make the case that we need to manage our wildlife for all user groups, and that scientifically sound wildlife management matters to Alaskans and visitors alike.
Alaska, like many other states, faces economic challenges. But by conserving wildlife habitat, managing endangered species for recovery and ensuring coexistence between and people and wildlife, we can grow Alaska’s economy and increase quality of life for its residents each year. Thriving wildlife will help ensure that people continue to visit and spend money in our state. Our incredible natural heritage is too important to let slip away.
Karla Dutton is the Alaska Program Director for Defenders of Wildlife