Migrating caribou on alpine tundra, thriving runs of wild salmon, moose on stream banks, human interdependence with the ecosystem: the Susitna River watershed has value beyond measure.
However, some benefits of the free-flowing Susitna River watershed can be calculated. Below are economic impacts from commercial and sport fishing, tourism, recreation and hunting.
Cook Inlet and the Susitna Basin contain some of the largest and most valuable salmon habitat and fisheries in the world. The Susitna is home to the 4th largest King Salmon Run in Alaska. The Susitna is one of the largest salmon producers in upper Cook Inlet fisheries, supporting both local communities and Alaska’s overall commercial fishing infrastructure.
The 10-year average harvest for Upper Cook Inlet is 3.2 million salmon, with an annual average ex-vessel value of $30 million. Lake and stream systems within the Susitna drainage are key spawning and rearing habitats for much of the Upper Cook Inlet sockeye run, the most commercially valuable of the salmon runs.
Roughly half of Alaska’s sport fishing occurs in and around Cook Inlet due to the abundance of fish in the Cook Inlet watershed’s river systems, of which the Susitna is the largest. Susitna drainages support extensive and diverse recreational fisheries for five species of Pacific salmon, rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, Arctic grayling, burbot, Arctic char and lake trout. Sockeye salmon in Fish Creek and eulachon (hooligan) in the Susitna River also contribute to personal use fishing. Eulachon runs on the Susitna are among the largest in the world with returning spawners numbering in the tens of millions each year.
Residents and non-residents spend a combined 300,000 angler-days (or days spent fishing by one person) in the Mat-Su Borough, primarily on Susitna tributaries. A study completed for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough by the University of Alaska Anchorage Institute for Social and Economic Research found that spending related to sport- fishing for residents and non-residents generated between 900 and 1,900 local jobs and between $31 million and $64 million of personal income for people in the borough.
The Susitna watershed nourishes a rich and diverse ecosystem of boreal forest, open tundra, and undisturbed tributaries. It is Alaska’s most popular destination for hunters and anglers because of its productive waters and wildlife habitat. In 2017, nearly 11,000 hunted in Game Management Unit (GMU) 10, with over 23,00 animals harvested. Hunting outfitters and guides are reliant upon the health of this abundant ecosystem.
Tourism and Recreation:
The headwaters of the Susitna flow from the glaciated flanks of Denali, America’s highest peak, and the heart of the Alaska Range. In addition to Denali’s iconic peak, the region features many natural attractions, providing outdoor enthusiasts with a myriad of recreation opportunities, which in turn support hundreds of tourism and recreation businesses. These businesses are supported by not only national and international visitors, and also by visitors from Anchorage and other areas of Alaska, who come to the Susitna watershed
An estimated $190 million is spent annually by visitors in the Matanuska-Susitna area. This region includes Denali National Park, Denali State Park, and many incredible state recreational areas that bring visitors from all over the world. Denali National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the United States. More than 375,000 visitors each year come to Alaska to experience this remarkable area.
According to 2016 Mat-Su Borough Tourism Economic Impact Analysis by the Mat-Su Convention and Visitors Bureau, out of state visitors directly spent $98 million in the Mat Su in 2016. Alaskans spend an additional $160 million in tourism and visitor-related spending in the Mat-Su, combining for a total of $193 million. Further, Tourism provides employment to 1350 Alaskans in the Borough and accounts for $34 million in labor revenue
The most common Mat-Su destinations among summer visitors were Talkeetna at 239,000 visitors and Palmer/ Wasilla at 174,000. An additional 21,000 visited other MatSu destinations such as Willow, Byers Lake, Hatcher Pass, and Sheep Mountain.
The free flowing Susitna River watershed provides a sustained economic benefit to Upper Susitna region, the Mat-Su Valley and to Alaska as a whole.