Opinion: A preserved watershed is more valuable than a developed one

Perhaps we just lived through the “golden years” of out-of-town visitors to the Mendenhall Glacier.

Perhaps we just lived through the “golden years” of out-of-town visitors to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Facility and the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area. The world class drive-up calving glacier, the lake full of bergs, the abundance of sockeye and coho salmon in Steep Creek, the mama bears with their cubs actively feeding on these salmon — all under the watchful eyes (and protection) of tourists on ADA-friendly boardwalks. Visitors have loved the awesome Linn Forrest-designed Glacier Visitors Center, the easy and difficult trail options, the falls, the mountains, the scenery, the photography. A real wolf-ready, beaver-certified and bird-approved human-nature interface place.

Well, change happens here. The glacier melts, the salmon runs collapse, the bears feed elsewhere. Nothing in this plan will help restore the glacier, fish and bears, and that one-stop, jaw-drop, visitor-gawk experience. Perhaps public funds would be better spent to maintain natural conditions than to expand into them?

Well, change happens everywhere. In our case, the norovirus cruising into town was a warning and the COVID-19 pandemic an edict — to not unnecessarily endanger public health through active promotion of a cruise-ship-based tourism industry.

We must appreciate and accept a prudent moderation of cruise ship visitors. I suggest that the cruise industries’ growth is unsustainable now. We must moderate our environmental impacts. We should be happy with what we have and with our ability to barely maintain our investments. I suggest that our limited public funds should go toward maintaining an Earth capable of sustaining us or we will collapse, too.

The USDA Forest Service is a resource management agency. They should be asking why the melting glaciers, the collapsing salmon runs, the hungry and displaced bears, the zoonotic spillovers? They should recognize the priceless value of intact watersheds and abundant salmon and their role in maintaining natural conditions and the space and food we need to survive. A maintained watershed is always more valuable than a developed one.

Ben Van Alen

Juneau

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