Study indicates refuge plays important role in borough's economy

Posted: Saturday, March 02, 2002

The Institute of Social and Economic Research of the University of Alaska Anchorage studied the economic importance of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The study, dated May 15, 2000, was conducted for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It was based upon 1997 data. It did not include non-sustainable uses, such as gas and oil production.

According to the study:

Tourist-related employment has been growing as the number of tourists to the Kenai Peninsula Borough has increased, although no annual data on the number of tourists is collected.

Of the estimated 292,000 visits to the refuge in 1997, 86,000 were for sport fishing. Most of these visits targeted Kenai River salmon. About 6,000 involved use of a guide. About 9,000 visits were for hunting, mainly for moose and waterfowl. Non-consumptive use accounted for 17,000 visits that included river rafting, canoeing, photography, hiking and biking. The largest number of visits, some 180,000, were "incidental" -- interpretive sites, wildlife watching and other purposes.

Visitors to the refuge spent about $21 million. This created an annual average of 407 jobs and a payroll of $8.7 million within the borough. Sport fishing trips accounted for half of the jobs. Of the $21 million spent, sport fishing accounted for $10 million. About $6 million was spent on sport hunting. Alaskans who live elsewhere than in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, mainly from Anchorage, accounted for most of the total ($8 million), followed by local residents ($7 million), and non-Alaska residents ($6 million).

The study also analyzed "refuge-dependent" visits and spending. In addition to the $21 million visitors spent on "on-site" visits to the refuge, they spent another $28 million on sport fishing off the refuge, where the target species was dependent upon the refuge's habitat. The total spent on refuge-dependent visits was $49 million. This spending was fairly evenly divided among local residents ($17 million), other Alaska residents ($16 million), and non-Alaska residents ($16 million). It created an annual average of 950 jobs with a payroll of $20.2 million within the borough.

New money brought into the peninsula's economy by non-local residents is $15 million for on-site visits and $32 million for refuge-dependent visits.

Of the total jobs created by refuge-dependent activity that brings new money into the region, commercial fishing accounts for 46 percent and sport fishing, 44 percent.

Some of the refuge's economic value is represented by the "monetary value of opportunities foregone" by residents who have chosen to live near the refuge. There is some evidence that some borough residents have chosen to accept the somewhat limited employment and income opportunities offered in the borough in exchange for the fishing, hunting and other outdoor activities available on the peninsula. The higher income these people would have earned had they chosen to live elsewhere is a rough measure of the economic value of those amenities, of which the refuge is an important component.

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