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Public lands make Alaska the best of the best for hunting and fishing

  • Author: Sam Snyder
    | Opinion
  • Updated: September 23, 2016
  • Published September 23, 2016

Angler Jason Smith tries his luck while fishing for silver salmon in the clear waters of Ship Creek on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016. (Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News)

I am not an Alaskan by birth but my kids are. There is no better home I could imagine for my family.  I was raised in Texas — a state that only dreams of being as big and amazing as Alaska.  Though I am grateful for my upbringing, I frequently think how lucky my kids are to have rivers full of salmon, mountains, snow, friendly communities.  But one of the most remarkable benefits of all is the vast amount of public land right out our front doors.

Today is National Hunting and Fishing Day, and Gov. Bill Walker has signed a resolution celebrating it here in Alaska.

I grew up hunting and fishing in Texas and, believe me, in Alaska we have a lot to celebrate. In Texas, fishing was done on public waters, and hunting was mostly done on private land, where to use it, you had to know someone or pay.

Only around 5 percent of Texas lands is publicly accessible.  In Alaska, roughly 95 percent of our land is managed by the state or federal government and owned by all of us.  This is land for all of us to use and enjoy — to fish, to hunt, to hike, boat or camp. These are lands for which we should have a say in how they are managed.

Did you know that the state of Alaska contains roughly 3,000 rivers, 3 million lakes and 6,640 miles of coastline? Not to mention, Alaska certainly stands alone as the last state in the United States with such complete and intact salmon fisheries. These rivers, lakes and coastline are a major part of what makes our state so great. Anglers and hunters flock here from around the world to experience hunting and fishing that we get to enjoy out our backdoors.

Hunting and fishing hold an important place in our state's economy and heritage, sustaining our Native communities and culture for generations, filling our freezers and powering our economy. From a fishing perspective alone, more than 450,000 Alaska residents and visitors annually participate in Alaska's sport fisheries; Alaska supports more than 1,150 sportfishing businesses and licenses more than 2,788 sportfishing guide businesses, and sportfishing generates roughly $1.4 billion in angler-related expenditures annually.

It is no secret that salmon are the centerpiece of that fishing heritage for Alaskans. We recognize salmon as a renewable resource for both food and employment. Not only do we value filling our freezers with salmon but we value the experiences of catching salmon (and trout, grayling, Dollies) on the many Alaska waterways. These traditions and activities are integral to the Alaska identity.

So as Alaskans, we should celebrate National Hunting and Fishing Day to its fullest and I am glad that Gov. Walker took the time to do so for the state of Alaska. We also must work to ensure that celebration feeds action to ensure these same opportunities we have are available to all future Alaskans too: for your children and mine, and for their children and grandchildren.

In America, hunters and anglers were some of the earliest advocates for clean water and healthy land management practices. They stood up for our public lands. And those efforts have paid big dividends in many contexts but Alaska is still the best of the best.  Reflecting on that history, though, it is clear we have a chance to learn from lessons and avoid the mistakes of the Lower 48.

So, on National Hunting and Fishing Day, I will celebrate by getting out fishing and enjoying Alaska's waters. But every day we must all work to make sure that our fishing and hunting resources are protected and maintained for future generations. After all, fishing and hunting are not only an important part of our heritage but a critical part of our economy — past, present and future.

Samuel Snyder, Ph.D., is the Alaska engagement director for Trout Unlimited's Alaska Program. He has worked on trout and salmon conservation across Alaska, especially in Bristol Bay and on the Susitna River. He has written widely on the history of fishing and conservation, including "Backcasts: A Global History of Fly Fishing and Conservation," published by University of Chicago Press.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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