Eco Tours in Alaska - Sustainable Tourism & Conservation Laws

Alaska is one of the most popular destinations for mountaineering, fishing, hunting, and backpacking in the entire world. The tourism industry in Alaska is so important that the entire population of the state effectively doubles every summer during the booming-- yet short-- tourist season. Nestled in the remote reaches of the far Pacific northwest, Alaska is home to the largest brown bears on the planet, some of the most productive salmon runs in the world, and some of the most remote land in the United States. In fact, the vast majority of people that visit Alaska during the tourist season are there to enjoy some aspect of the pristine wilderness found there. As a result, Alaska has enacted a number of special environmental laws to protect what is essentially their greatest financial and health asset.

One of the biggest differences between Alaska and the rest of the United States is the level of control that local indigenous communities have over the land that surrounds them. In stark contrast to the reservation system that was put in place in the lower 48 states, Alaska natives live on their traditional lands. Instead of reservations, the state of Alaska created native corporations that control immense tracts of land around the state. The corporations are operated by natives of different cultural backgrounds to represent the needs of their communities. Native corporations often are the bodies which people need to work with if they are planning a trip in certain areas of Alaska, especially when it comes to larger trips.

The effect that this has on wildlife and tourism is multifaceted. On one hand, this higher level of control on the local level has led to the needs of local communities being more readily addressed. However, issues have arisen due to the concurrent financial difficulties that remote Alaskan natives face which cause them to sometimes make decisions based off of purely financial motivations. For the most part, a deep respect for the land on the part of natives has led to the perpetuation of a healthy and dynamic ecosystem that is highly conducive to tourism.

For tourists looking to undertake a trophy hunt in the state of Alaska, there are a few hurdles to take into account. The largest of these hurdles are the various regulations that apply to big game hunting for out of state residents. According to Alaska state fish and game laws, all non-resident big game hunters are legally required to hire a guide for their trips. This does not apply to fishing and small game hunting, but it is strictly enforced on big game hunts. The wilderness is constantly patrolled from the air by the Alaska State Troopers, and penalties for hunting big game without a license or without a guide are exceptionally stiff.

In some areas of the state, these big game laws are more strictly enforced. For example, on Kodiak Island, brown bear hunting is covered by a sea of regulations. Not only are non-resident hunters required to go out with a guide, but if their hunt is successful they are required to bring the skull to the state game manager to be sealed.

Aside from hunting and fishing, one of the most popular ways to visit Alaska is by boat, with many cruises making their way to the Alaska coast every year. The two principle cruise lines in Alaska are Carnival and Princess Cruises, both of which offer cruises that meander along the coast. These coasts make stops in many coastal Alaskan towns, helping to bring tourist dollars to areas of Alaska that may not otherwise see them.

Alaska is a state that is built on the tourist industry. Aside from fishing, tourism provides more jobs and a greater injection of money into the economy than any other industry. The result is a dichotomy of environmental laws and regulations. On one hand, the regulations seek to encourage tourism. On the other hand, the regulations also seek to preserve the popular natural resources of the state from over-exploitation-- effectively preserving the tourist industry itself. What is left is a workable marriage between economic growth and environmental sustainability that has acted as a model for both other states, and countries across the globe.