- Associated Press - Friday, June 19, 2015

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - A group of 49 business owners in southeast Alaska wants the federal government to put devote more funding into recreation opportunities at the Tongass National Forest.

The group sent a letter in May asking lawmakers to consider the Tongass’ recreation program when Forest Service funding is appropriated, the Juneau Empire reported (http://bit.ly/1QGKwOk ).

The group said the recreation budget has dropped 42 percent in the last six years. Funding for Tongass recreation in trails accounts for less than 10 percent of the national forest budget, according to the letter, which said tourism accounts for about half of the Tongass’ revenue.

“This return on investment could be maximized rather than undermined by enhanced … support for the Tongass recreation program,” the letter states.

Montana-based research firm Headwater Economics released a report in November saying the Tongass is spending more on its timber program than recreation.

Juneau Economic Development Council Director Brian Holst said the House and Senate had been expected to act on a Forest Service budget proposal this week. The congressional letter was the work of a visitor industry working group facilitated by the development council.

The letter shows that much of the region’s tourism industry is behind the idea, according to Holst.

“We’re not going to be able to grow tourism in Alaska without improving our access to recreational opportunities … on the Tongass,” he said.

According to the Headwater Economics report, an average of 37 percent of Tongass funds have gone to its timber program, but only 15 percent has been targeted for recreation programs. The study said spending should be reprioritized because the logging industry is shrinking while the southeast Alaska travel industry is growing.

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

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