Economic Impacts Analysis: Southeast Alaska Transboundary Watersheds

Southeast Alaska’s economy is highly dependent on the region’s rich natural resources. Two of the region’s key industries, commercial fishing and tourism/recreation, rely on healthy eco-systems to generate jobs, income, and other economic opportunities. Transboundary rivers, which originate in Canada and flow into the U.S., are important components of Southeast’s economically-valuable eco-system. This economic connection between transboundary rivers and the entire Southeast Alaska economy is a critically important aspect of watershed management.SalmonState contracted with McDowell Group, an Alaska-based research and consulting firm, to measure the economic impacts in Southeast Alaska of three transboundary watersheds: Taku, Stikine, and Unuk Rivers. The analysis also briefly considers economic contributions to Southeast Alaska from the Nass and Skeena Rivers, two river systems that also have cross-border economic impacts.

Recognizing that healthy watershed systems have value far beyond the jobs and income they support, this study of “river economics” focuses on the commercial value of the rich salmon runs supported by Southeast Alaska’s three transboundary watersheds. It also considers economic impacts connected to the watersheds’ scenic and recreational amenities that make all three areas popular destinations for the visitor industry and Southeast Alaska residents.

Communities closest to the watersheds benefit most directly from healthy transboundary watersheds, though the economic benefits, including business spending, labor income, and job creation, as well as a variety of tax benefits, flow through the entire region.
The perpetual nature of watershed economics is perhaps the most important benefit of Southeast Alaska’s transboundary areas. Fish, wildlife, and scenic resources in the watersheds are fully renewable and have the potential to offer greater economic value as similar resources and experiences grow more scarce. With proper management, watersheds can continue to generate economic benefits for Alaskans and others far into the future.

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