Bear viewing industry brings in millions of dollars to Southcentral’s economy, study says

McNeil River is one of the largest gatherings of brown bears in the world. (Photo by Carl Chapman)

On the edge of bear viewing season, a first-of-its-kind study finds that the industry brings in millions of dollars to Southcentral Alaska’s economy.

University of Alaska Fairbanks economics professor Joseph Little is one of the authors of the study.

“In general we find that remote access bear viewing actually supports quite a bit in terms of economic contribution,” he said. “So we estimate about $34 million in sales. That would also extend to about $19 million in value added to the regional economy.”

Little and a graduate student worked together to produce the report assessing businesses tied into bear viewing such as lodges, air taxis and guides.

“We had a number of service providers indicate that bear viewing related revenues, that is them taking people out to, say Katmai or McNeil River, add anywhere up to 80 percent of their associated revenues tied to bear viewing,” he said. “So it’d be very important to a lot of small local businesses in terms of their financial viability.”

Little adds the industry has been growing. He says that Lake Clark National Park and Preserve in particular has seen an increase in visitors over the past few years.

He says he doesn’t know whether this most recent report will be reproduced annually and says both he and his students may assess other aspects of the industry, such as the impact that online bear viewing has on actual visitation.

Some are using Little’s economic study to oppose the Army Corps of Engineers draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Pebble Mine. They say that the draft statement does not do enough to address the project’s impact on bear populations and the local tourist economy.

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