Kenai manager cites economic benefits of wildlife refuge

Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2001

KENAI (AP) -- The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge makes more than $170 million per year in sustainable contributions to the Kenai Peninsula economy, its manager said Tuesday.

''It really boils down to the fish,'' Robin West told the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce. ''We can talk about a lot of other things that are important to the economy, but having a good sustainable fishery is where most of this is coming from.''

Most of the central Kenai Peninsula's salmon depend on the refuge, he said.

''Much of the king salmon run depends on refuge tributaries,'' he said. ''Essentially, all of the sockeyes and cohos spawn here or migrate through refuge waters.''

A study conducted for the refuge by the Institute for Social and Economic Research of the University of Alaska Anchorage said the economic impacts of those fish are pervasive. The study, completed last summer, is based on 1997 statistics.

West said the refuge sees more than 500,000 visitors each year. The study found that those visitors spend $21 million per year in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, creating 407 jobs worth $8.7 million in payroll. While many visitors come to hike, hunt or enjoy the scenery, sportfishing activities generate about half of the economic impacts, West said.

He said the Russian River ferry, which operates under a contract with the refuge, generates close to $250,000 per year in ticket sales. The refuge issues 300 special-use permits per year for hunting and fishing guides, outfitters and providers of scenic trips. Clients drawn to those businesses patronize local gas stations, restaurants, motels and stores.

Another 542,000 people came for recreation elsewhere on the Kenai Peninsula that depends on refuge resources -- fishing in the lower Kenai River, half the peninsula's other freshwater angling and 7 percent of local saltwater angling. Those visitors spend $49 million per year, creating 950 jobs with $20.2 million in payroll. Sportfishing activity accounts for three-quarters of those economic impacts.

The value of Cook Inlet commercial salmon fisheries varies greatly from year to year. However, West said, for the 20 years that ended in 1997, the catch brought an average of $58 million per year to commercial fishers. Assuming 40 percent of Cook Inlet salmon are hatched and reared within the refuge, the contribution to the economy is 542 jobs worth $20.2 million in payroll.

Adding the pieces, the refuge generates $70 million per year in visitor spending, commercial fishing worth an average of $58 million per year, and 1,899 jobs with a payroll of roughly $49 million.

In addition, refuge operations and payroll pump another $2 million to $3 million through the peninsula economy each year, he said, and refuge construction projects average about $1.3 million per year.

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