Editor’s Note: This is the third and final installment of a three-part blog series looking at economic trends in Southeast Alaska.
The tourism industry in Southeast Alaska is experiencing significant sustained growth, according to a new study.
The Southeast Conference, a Juneau-based economic development organization, issued the report recently that found employment in Southeast Alaska’s visitor industry to have added 330 new jobs in 2013, a five-percent gain over the prior years.
That follows seven-percent growth between 2010 and 2012 —for a total increase of 730 jobs in the last three years.
“When you combine air travel, cruise ships and ferry arrivals, Southeast Alaska hosted just over two million passengers in 2013, a 3.4-percent increase from the year before,” said Meilani Schijvens, the report’s author. Schijvens owns and operates Rain Coast Data, an economic research firm in Juneau.
Cruise ships travelling to Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest are driving much of the growth. Between 2010 and 2013, cruise passenger traffic to the Tongass increased by 14-percent, or 124,000 more visitors, according to the report.
“2014 has been another good year for Southeast Alaska’s visitor industry, despite a slight decline in cruise ship passenger numbers due to deployment decisions. We are looking forward to a growth year in 2015 which translates into a promising outlook for jobs and business success,” said Kirby Day, manager of port operations and passenger logistics for Princess Cruises in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, French Polynesia and South America.
Day also chairs the Visitor Products Cluster Working Group, an initiative to build public-private partnerships to stimulate the regional economy.
“The number of visitors looking for an opportunity to experience the Tongass National Forest continues to grow. The visitor industry and the Forest Service are partnering to review and improve access. This partnership is an important opportunity to make sure we’re able to successfully provide additional access in a responsible and sustainable manner. It’s good for business and good for our communities.”
Southeast’s visitor industry has also benefited from the entry of Delta Airlines to the market. In June and July of this year, the number of airline passengers arriving in Juneau rose by 12-percent or 8,000 passengers compared to same time last year.
The visitor industry continues to be one of Southeast Alaska’s largest private employers. It accounts for 15-percent of all regional jobs and nearly 21-percent of all private-sector jobs.
Besides creating employment, tourism also contributes to the economy by way of visitors’ purchasing power. Visitors to Southeast Alaska spent $595 million in 2013, 10-percent growth over the prior year, the report finds, citing research by McDowell Group, a Juneau firm.
The industry’s outlook is strong as the country recovers from the Great Recession of 2008.
“Now that the U.S. economy is more or less back on track, people have more disposable income and they’re using it on travel,” Schijvens said.
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series about Southeast Alaska’s major economic engines – maritime, seafood and tourism.
Southeast Alaska fishermen enjoyed a record year in 2013.
According to a new report by the Southeast Conference, the region’s seafood harvest weighed a whopping 479 million pounds last year—a 79-percent increase over the prior year. It marks the biggest year for the region as far as total pounds of fish caught. Driving the big surge was a massive return of lower-value pink salmon.
At $375 million, the 2013 catch marked the highest harvest value ever (although when adjusted for inflation it ranked just slightly behind 2011, the report found.)
In 2013, Southeast Alaska fishermen experienced the largest recorded salmon catch—112 million salmon—as well as the largest pink salmon harvest, of 95 million pink salmon. Southeast Alaska was the most valuable salmon fishing area in the state, with a salmon harvest value of $250 million.
Southeast Alaska’s salmon harvest in 2013 exceeded that of any other Alaska region for every species except sockeye. In the case of Chinook and Coho, the regional catch was higher in Southeast than for the rest of the state combined.
“Seafood is a very strong economic driver in the region. It accounts for 11 percent of all regional employment and nine percent of all regional employment earnings,” said Meilani Schijvens, the report’s author.
The Southeast Alaska seafood industry (including commercial fishermen & seafood processors) consisted of 4,250 average annual regional jobs in 2013. Those working in the region’s seafood industry earned $245 million in 2013, up five-percent from the year before
It was also a record year as far as pounds of seafood processed in the region. The report finds that shore-based seafood facilities in Southeast processed 300 million pounds of seafood in 2013, with a wholesale value of $624 million, a 53-percent increase in seafood processing value over 2012. Fisheries taxes for processing generated $4.3 million for regional communities.
“There’s a real bright future for seafood in Southeast Alaska and statewide. There’s a lot of interest in wild seafood in particular, seafood that comes from pristine places. As we like to say, Alaska has the highest-quality seafood from the cleanest environment,” said Tyson Fick, communications director for Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
“Prices are increasing or stable. And when you look at the value of fishing permits, especially for salmon, they’ve gone way up. Salmon permit values have shot up over 250-percent over the last ten years. That’s a good indicator for us as to how value permits are and it tells us people are pretty bullish on Alaska seafood.”
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series. Coming next: how the seafood industry helps drive the regional economy in the Tongass National Forest.
The maritime industry in Southeast Alaska – home to the Tongass National Forest — is experiencing major growth.
Since 2010, the maritime sector has expanded by 14-percent or nearly 900 jobs. Wages also grew by $76.4 million or 24-percent, according to a new report by the Southeast Conference.
Various industries make up the maritime sector, including ocean transportation, shipbuilding, seafood, tourism and Coast Guard. Aside from government jobs, maritime comprises the largest sector of the regional economy with 7,035 jobs and $392 million in associated wages.
“A big part of the growth we’re seeing has to do with the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard’s 17th District, which oversees all of Alaska and more than 44,000 miles of coastline, is based in Juneau. Because of Arctic warming and retreating sea ice, we’re seeing increased ship traffic and as a result the Coast Guard has added 250 jobs since 2010. These tend to be manager-level, high-wage jobs,” said Meilani Schijvens of Rain Coast Data, who authored the report.
Seafood makes up the largest component of the Southeast maritime sector, with 60-percent of all maritime jobs. When private and Coast Guard jobs are added together, the maritime sector directly accounts for 18-percent of all employment-related income and 15-percent of all Southeast Alaska employment.
Nearly every element of the Southeast economy is intermingled with the maritime sector, the report finds. This region of temperate rain forest and islands depends on barges to import most of its commodities. Some 3,000 commercial fishing vessels are home ported in Southeast, and nearly a million people visit Southeast Alaska communities on 500 cruise ship voyages in the summer. A quarter million more arrived by ferry in 2013.
The outlook for the maritime sector is very promising.
In September, the Parnell administration awarded a nearly $120 million contract for two state ferries to be constructed at a shipyard in Ketchikan. It’s the first time that state ferries have ever been manufactured in Alaska.
“These vessels will be the largest ships ever built in Alaska,’ Gov. Sean Parnell said in a press statement. “Building these ferries in state will be a major boost for Alaska’s economy. This has been our intent during the entire process and will help create hundreds of new year-round jobs at the Ketchikan shipyard, while helping Ketchikan develop a highly capable workforce, not only for the growing marine economy of Southeast Alaska, but with skills that can translate into work across the state.”
Doug Ward, director of shipyard development, at Alaska Ship & Drydock, said an estimated 22.3 million in total wages will be generated over the four-year life of the project.
“There’ll be additional 9.8 million in local spending for a total impact of 32.1 million from wages and spending. It’s more than a big boost to Ketchikan and regional economy,” said Ward.
It’s only been in the last two years or so that people are starting to realize that Alaska has an emerging maritime industry that’s an important employer, Ward said.
“We’re starting to understand that maritime isn’t just seafood and fish processing.”
In addition to shipbuilding and the Coast Guard’s growing presence, increasing marine transportation and a rebounding tourism market are also adding to the marine sector’s growth in Southeast, according to the report.
By MALENA MARVIN
FOR THE JUNEAU EMPIRE
According to Southeast Conference, Southeast Alaska’s economy is increasingly stable, diverse and strong. Bolstered by the powerful twin engines of fishing and tourism — drawing $1 billion each to the region annually — the Tongass is not unlike the proverbial goose that is laying golden eggs.
With a board, staff and thousands of supporters all living and working between Ketchikan and Yakutat, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is fully invested in the economic future of the region.
We too are raising families here and want our kids to be able to live and work in Southeast Alaska. We too value livelihoods based on natural resources. Not only am I the executive director of SEACC, I also fish with my partner, a commercial power troller who’s fished out of Petersburg for the past 13 years. As one of Alaska’s fishing families, we recognize that our industry requires clean water and healthy fisheries to stay viable. I do my job at SEACC to ensure the future of our family business and the ability of our children to make a living off the land and sea.
SEACC has consistently supported a dozen locally-owned small sawmills with brochures, videos and advertising. We’ve also collaborated on innovative community forestry projects that keep timber dollars in the region. Recognizing that our communities need diverse and sustainable income streams, we’ve supported Ketchikan’s Alaska Ship and Drydock and have hired staff tasked with growing Wrangell’s marine services capacity and supporting its expanded shipyard and marine travel lift.
We support Southeast Alaska’s $1 billion commercial fishing industry, now the most lucrative and productive salmon fishery in all of Alaska, which according to Sen. Lisa Murkowski provides more local household incomes than timber, mining, oil and gas combined. We also support tourism, the region’s second largest economic driver, using our materials to promote local charter and recreational businesses.
Like most Alaskans, we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy the same unique way of life and bright economic prospects we do. To ensure this, we believe economic development today should not come at the expense of economic development tomorrow. Similarly, one industry should not “pollute the waters” of another industry. And if we are to keep our communities strong and vibrant, profits from industry should stay in the region with local people working together to chart the path of development in their communities.
While we work hard to support development that meet these common sense criteria, projects still get proposed that have limited economic benefits to the region, threaten future economic prosperity or undercut other vital economic activity. The Big Thorne timber sale is one of these projects.
We agree with the Juneau Empire that “there are better plans out there, ones that don’t subscribe to the historical practice of clear-cutting.” Indeed, there is widespread, popular support for moving forward with a forest plan that builds on our region’s economic success by helping, not harming, our real economic drivers: fishing and tourism.
Southeast Conference reports that timber brought in just $17 million to the region in 2013, less than 1 percent of fishing and tourism’s combined $2 billion, and below even our region’s arts sector in economic value. Meanwhile, American taxpayers are subsidizing the export-oriented Tongass timber program at $20 million per year — $130,000 per Tongass timber job — as the New York Times recently reported. While our taxpayers swallow a net economic loss, our old-growth forests are shipped back to us from Asia as profitable products.
If the goal is prosperous communities on the Tongass, the Tongass National Forest’s budget would be better invested sustaining fisheries, expanding recreation opportunities for locals and paying visitors and setting up small mill owners and restoration crews to transition to primarily young-growth timber for local markets. Sure, selective old-growth logging will always have a place on the Tongass, but let’s make sure we maximize jobs per log cut at small mills around the region rather than export our remaining old-growth — and jobs — at an unsustainable rate.
Community forestry has a vital, if supplemental, economic role to play in Southeast Alaska. The good news is that a local wood industry is compatible not only with fishing and tourism, but also with forest management for wildlife and hunting. If the Forest Service, the state of Alaska and local people work together, we can remove the remaining economic barriers — ending round log exports, for one — to a sustainable forest products industry in which local families have stable employment processing local wood for local markets.
We won’t get there if the Forest Service’s “Tongass transition” continues to pour public money into divisive old-growth clearcuts that export local jobs.
Southeast Alaska’s natural resources can provide unparalleled economic opportunities for local people for generations to come, if we spend wisely and make smart management decisions. Instead of cooking the goose that lays our golden eggs, let’s lay the foundation for future economic prosperity.
Malena Marvin is the Executive Director of Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.
By the Juneau Empire
Logging in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest is an industry that faltered many times before getting off the ground. Yet once it did, it took off with the momentum of a steam engine and with support from all over the state.
“Hereafter in Alaska the 14th day of July will be celebrated as the anniversary of one of the most important events in the territory’s history,” B. Frank Heintzleman, then-governor of the territory wrote of the dedication of the Ketchikan Pulp Company. “This is not only the first plan of its kind in Alaska, but also represents the largest single industrial investment ever made here. It is an important milestone on Alaska’s road to full industrial development.”
The year was 1954 and, at the time, the U.S. Forest Service openly accepted that best practices for silviculture was clear cutting. In 1972, the Forest Service even put out a brochure detailing how the practice of clearing entire stands of forest was the best way to ensure light reached the forest floor.
By the 1980s, a number of small mills had opened up across Southeast, and the new Native corporations had gotten into the business. It was a time of prosperity under a plan that was about to change drastically over the next few decades as federal agencies enacted tighter regulations and passed laws meant to protect national forest lands, but which ultimately drove the region’s timber industry to near-extinction.
History has shown there can be a viable timber industry in Southeast Alaska, but past practices did not take into consideration the sustainability that must exist in a region like few others in the world. It is a region we feel should be protected.
The Big Thorne Timber Sale will be the largest sale in some time and outlines the harvesting of some 5,000 acres of old growth forest. Whether or not that sale comes to fruition is up to the courts to decide.
There are better plans out there, ones that don’t subscribe to the historical practice of clear-cutting.
Now is the time to move forward because as history has taught, change doesn’t go over smoothly when so many players — conservation groups, regulatory agencies, business folks and industry experts — believe they know what sort of change is best.
We support future logging on the Tongass, but we want to see sustainable practices put into play. Timber harvests, unlike North Slope oil, don’t have to be a finite resource.
An example of one such plan was brought to our attention by Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist for the GEOS Institute, and Catharine Mater, vice president of Mater Engineering, both out of Oregon. Their team focused on a plan that uses young growth trees (those growing in once-harvested areas), while protecting sensitive areas such as karst, existing no-cut buffers and old-growth forest.
The numbers look promising.
“We focused on logs that can easily go to market,” DellaSala said. “… Areas that already had some thinning … where the trees grow bigger, quicker.”
With that narrowed focus, the team identified about 36,000 acres of timber ready for logging.
Over 50 years, that acreage would be able to provide more than the minimum amount of board feet per year to float the existing mills in the region, according to the study, including Viking Lumber (which was interviewed as part of the study) on Prince of Wales Island. If logged at a controlled pace — 35 million board feet per year of log supply, for instance — a mill located in the POW region would produce approximately 70 million board feet of lumber per year and create 150 full-time equivalent direct jobs.
There’s a catch: The Forest Service, under a plan of this nature, would have to change the age at which trees can be harvested. Tree growth rates decelerate around 90 years, and regulations say you can’t cut before that. The report from DellaSala and Mater assumes trees would be cut at 55 years old.
“If we do that, we’ll have a ‘wall of wood,’” DellaSala said.
The plan has its skeptics, but we like the environmental safeguards it supports. Furthermore, lawsuits over second-growth harvests are few and far between. If loggers don’t have to worry about lawsuits, they can harvest in peace.
Simply cutting trees does not equal a viable industry, and whether regulatory agencies move toward this plan or some other, we want to see the byproduct stay in the state.
In the end, we need a vibrant timber industry based on sustainability. It can be done. Care and cooperation must be at the forefront of these efforts, because the Tongass National Forest is one of the last remaining intact temperate rainforests on Earth. That must always be our highest consideration.
Empire editorials are written by the Juneau Empire’s editorial board. Members include Publisher Rustan Burton, email@example.com; Director of Audience Abby Lowell,firstname.lastname@example.org; Managing Editor Charles L. Westmoreland, email@example.com; and Asst. Editor James Brooks, firstname.lastname@example.org.