Alaska’s largest visitor industry group is urging Congress and the Forest Service to reverse a sharp decline in funding forrecreation programs in the country’s largest national forest, the Tongass. The Alaska Travel Industry Association, a statewide organization of tourism operators, passed a resolution this spring pointing out that the Forest Service is downsizing its Tongass recreation program and is initiating a “decommissioning program” that will close certain facilities, limiting access to public lands. The funding cuts are affecting Alaska landmarks such as Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier and surrounding recreation area, as well as many campgrounds, hiking trails and visitor centers across the Tongass National Forest, which cloaks most of Southeast Alaska in coastal, temperate rain forest.
As ATIA’s president and chief executive Sarah Leonard notes, these lands are not only important to Alaskans but are also essential to the 240 travel-related businesses and sole proprietors who hold special use permits to operate on the Tongass. Tourism is the largest private-sector employer in the region. In her op-ed published in the Juneau Empire, Leonard pointed out the Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) also questioned the Tongass budget cuts in a recent hearing in Congress and asked Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell to reconsider the issue.
(While the Forest Service cuts funding for Tongass recreation programs that support the region’s robust tourism and fishing industries, it continues to spend more than $20 million annually on old-growth timber sales and logging roads, an industry that barely supports around 100 private-sector jobs.)
Read Leonard’s op-ed.