Study says healthy ecosystem benefits Alaska workers

Posted: Tuesday, February 20, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A new study attempts to place a dollar value on Alaska's natural ecosystems.

The study, paid for by the Alaska Conservation Foundation, says 84,000 jobs, or 26 percent of jobs in Alaska, rely on a healthy environment.

''We wanted to determine which industries were intricately connected to the environment,'' said Deborah Williams, executive director of the Alaska Conservation Foundation.

The study concludes that industries linked to healthy ecosystems provided six times more direct jobs in Alaska than the nearly 9,000 produced directly by the oil industry and generate twice the income of the petroleum mining and construction industries combined.

The study found that the industries that benefit from a healthy economy include commercial fishing, tourism, guiding, sportfishing, wildlife viewing, subsistence and government jobs managing natural resources.

In discussions of Alaska's political and economic future, it is important to know the value of its natural ecosystems, Williams said.

''This study tells us that if the ecosystem went belly up, these people would lose these jobs,'' she said.

The study was done by Steven Colt, assistant economics professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage's Institute of Social and Economic Research. It looked at two kinds of employment: jobs directly tied to one of the industries identified in the study, plus jobs supported by those industries.

The number of jobs that rely directly on healthy ecosystems is 55,000. The number of jobs that rely indirectly on healthy ecosystems rises to 84,000. Those indirect jobs are in retailing and other businesses where workers dependent on a healthy ecosystem spend their money.

The conservation group paid $11,000 for the study, which synthesized existing studies.

Williams said the study's goal is not to downplay the economic importance of oil but to illustrate the importance of healthy ecosystems.

Oil jobs also create indirect employment. A recent study underwritten by the oil industry found that oil generates 33,573 jobs statewide.

''Both studies are trying to give some sense of how dependent we are on those industries,'' said Gregg Erickson, an economics consultant in Juneau. ''The oil industry is trying to show us we're dead if they're not around, just like the folks that paid for the ecosystem study are trying to make the same point about healthy ecosystems.

''They could both be right,'' he said.

Bob Logan, a University of Alaska Fairbanks economics professor, said the study underplays the importance of the oil industry and the military.

''People go fishing and get value walking through the woods because they have a job here,'' he said. ''Look at the source of income that pays for these bureaucrats, and it comes back to oil.''

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