Tourism is thriving in Alaska's Tongass National Forest. So why is the U.S. Forest Service slashing its investment in this growing, renewable industry? That's the key question posed by the president and chief executive of Alaska's largest tourism association this week in an op-ed in the Juneau Empire.
The Alaska Travel Industry Association, a statewide organization of tourism operators and business owners, passed a resolution this spring bemoaning that the Forest Service is downsizing its Tongass recreation program and starting a “decommissioning program” that will close certain visitor 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 tourism businesses with special-use permits to operate on the Tongass. Tourism is the largest private-sector employer in the region. In her op-ed, 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 continues to cut funding for recreation and restoration programs that support the region’s tourism and fishing industries, it continues to spend more than $20 million annually on old-growth timber sales and logging roads that provide barely more than 100 jobs..)