JUNEAU, Alaska — Tourism leaders in Alaska are asking Congress to increase U.S. Forest Service recreation funding.

Tourism leaders representing 49 businesses in Southeast Alaska wrote in an open letter last week that the U.S. Forest Service’s budget has shrunk by nearly half in a little more than a decade, hampering growth in southeast Alaska’s visitor industry.

The U.S. Forest Service’s funding for recreation on the Tongass and Chugach national forests declined 46 percent from 2004-2014, the businesses said. That’s hurting businesses that depend on U.S. Forest Service staff to issue permits and maintain cabins and trails in the Tongass, they said.

Tourism companies pay for permits to guide tours in Juneau. Some companies said those permits are coming late because U.S. Forest Service staff is overburdened, the Juneau Empire reported .

The businesses, 16 of which are based in Juneau, are calling for Congress to “reverse the decline and appropriate funding for Tongass recreation programs that reflects their relative importance in terms of economic influence in the region.”

Over a million tourists visited Juneau in 2017. Tourism is the largest private-sector employer in southeast Alaska in terms of jobs and wages, surpassing the seafood industry for the first time, according to the Rain Coast Data economic research firm.

“In southeast Alaska, nature-based tourism is one of the big opportunities on public lands,” Pack Creek Bear Tours manager Dan Kirkwood said Friday. “The goal here is to say that investment in our public lands and investment in the Tongass is a real economic driver. We’re talking about recreation, but this is serious business.”


Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com