New study shows bear viewing industry supports nearly 500 jobs and more than $34 million in sales annually
We’re getting tired talking about what a stupid idea it is to put a giant, toxic hole in the headwaters of the world’s greatest sockeye fishery. We’ve grown uncomfortably numb to Pebble’s lobbying and insider politics to get its ill-conceived project the permits it needs. And we’re sick and tired hearing the billionaire Koch Brothers press for a project most Alaskans don’t want.
But we’ll never stop fighting to protect the things that make Alaska great, and in Cook Inlet, that means brown bears, and the many families, jobs and businesses that bear-viewing supports.
Lower Cook Inlet boasts the highest concentration of brown bears on the planet. From Katmai and Lake Clark National Parks, to the McNeil River State Wildlife Sanctuary – and everywhere in between – Cook Inlet is truly a global phenomena when it comes to brown bears.
Today, Inletkeeper joined its partners to release a new study, “The Economic Contribution of Bear Viewing in Southcentral Alaska.” Authored by researchers at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, the report finds:
- Bear viewing related service providers (air/boat taxis, guides, lodging) reported $34.5 million in sales in 2017;
- Bear viewing service providers paid approximately $10 million in direct wages and benefits and hired 371 employees in 2017.
- Direct spending by service providers and households contributes approximately $19 million in value added to the regional economy.
- Direct purchases by bear viewing service providers and their households support approximately $36.3 million in economic production in the region.
- Bear viewing spending by service providers and households supports approximately $17.3 million in labor income in the region, including $10 million in direct wages and benefits;
- Spending by bear viewing service providers and households supports 490 sustainable jobs in the region, including 371 reported direct hires.
Pebble’s current plan is to build a massive road and pipeline complex from Lake Iliamna to Amakdedori Creek, in Kamishak Bay in southwest Cook Inlet. There, they say they will build a giant export facility to load barges which will transfer ore concentrate to huge bulk carriers destined for the cheapest place to smelt the ore.
We did a reconnaissance trip to Amakdedori Creek last year to check it out, and without going into too much detail, the Pebble people are crazy if they think they can move cargo in the radical weather and navigational conditions of Kamishak Bay.
Yet while Alaskans understand how challenging this area is for mariners – and how unique it is for brown bears – the draft Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Army Corps of Engineers utterly fails to address impacts to bears or bear viewing in any meaningful way. That’s no surprise, because Pebble’s trying to rush through the EIS process while the Trump/Dunleavy Administrations are in power. But it’s outrageous nonetheless.
As Dave Bachrach, a longtime bear viewing guide and owner of the bear viewing business AK Adventures, Inc., based in Homer, said:
“Bear viewing businesses play a vital economic role from Homer to Anchorage and beyond. I was pretty surprised and disappointed when the Army Corps completely ignored the economic impacts from bear viewing businesses in the Pebble DEIS.”
Bear viewing – like sport, commercial and subsistence fishing – can provide sustainable jobs, foods and revenues for our local communities for a long time if they’re properly managed. Giant open pit mines and huge toxic waste pits cannot.
So, chalk up yet another reason the proposed Pebble Mine makes no sense for Alaska. Because at the most basic level, it’s just “unbearable.”