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Do animals equal dollars? Alaska aims to find out.

Hannah HeimbuchThe Arctic Sounder
Aaron Jansen illustration

Wildlife brings big dollars to Alaska, so the Department of Fish and Game will examine exactly how the money spent — watching, catching, eating, mounting or wearing Alaska game.

Between hunting, trapping and wildlife viewing, Alaska's wild things draw dollars from residents and non-residents alike. Independent research firm ECONorthwest launched the first stage of the study recently, surveying upwards of 16,000 people by email. 

"We (have) had some inquires from people asking if it was legitimate," said Fish and Game wildlife viewing coordinator Anne Sutton, saying there was some suspicion from wary recipients. "Folks wanted to know that it was for real."

It is. The $400,000 study, paid for by the federally supported Wildlife Restoration Fund, will collect information from residents and visitors who took advantage of wildlife viewing opportunities. It will also survey residents and visitors who bought 2011 hunting and trapping licenses.

"Using the data collected from these surveys, the study will describe and quantify, where possible, the relationship between wildlife and Alaska's economy," said a news release from Fish and Game about the study.

Researchers want to know in what regions people spent cash, and what they bought — gear, transportation, food, guides, or something else. A final report is due next fall.

Fish and Game hopes to better identify the role wildlife activities have in various parts of the Alaska economy, Sutton said. "We're hoping to get a good sense of what the economic benefit is to the state."

This study does not include fishing.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service produces a similar study, Sutton added, but Fish and Game is seeking a more comprehensive analysis in order to better understand the critter-to-cash- flow connection.

"Their numbers don't always reflect what we're seeing on the ground," she said. "And they use a fairly small sample. We can get a lot more detail from the national survey."

An expanded understanding of these connections will better inform the state's decision makers, Sutton said.

"When they're making policy decisions that affect the department, it's important to know just how it will affect the economy," she said. "We don't base our decisions purely on economic figures, but it is certainly an important consideration."

For information on the project, contact Anne Sutton at anne.sutton@alaska.gov or at (907) 465-5157.