The Susitna River watershed is fed by the glaciers in the high and rugged peaks of the Alaska Range. Encompassing some of Alaska’s most visited areas, it provides the backbone of rich fishing, hunting, tourism and recreational economies. It is the heart of Alaska: great mountains, deep forests, open tundra, and communities rich with culture and history, and heavily reliant on subsistence resources.
Cook Inlet and the Susitna Basin contain some of the largest and most valuable salmon habitat and fisheries in the world and the Susitna is home to the 4th largest King Salmon Run in Alaska. The Susitna is one of the largest salmon producers in upper Cook Inlet fisheries, supporting both local communities and Alaska’s overall commercial fishing infrastructure.
Upper Cook Inlet’s average commercial harvest is four million salmon annually with an estimated ex-vessel value (value before processing) in 2012 of approximately $34.2 million. Lake and stream systems within the Susitna drainage are key spawning and rearing habitats for much of the Upper Cook Inlet sockeye run, the most commercially valuable of the salmon runs.
Roughly half of Alaska’s sport fishing occurs in and around the Cook Inlet due to the abundance of fish in the Cook Inlet watershed’s river systems, of which the Susitna is the largest. Susitna drainages support extensive and diverse recreational fisheries for five species of Pacific salmon, rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, Arctic grayling, burbot, Arctic char and lake trout5. Sockeye salmon in Fish Creek and eulachon (hooligan) in the Susitna River also contribute to personal use fishing. Eulachon runs on the Susitna are among the largest in the world with returning spawners numbering in the tens of millions each year.
Residents and non-residents spend a combined 300,000 angler-days (or days spent fishing by one person) in the Mat-Su Borough, primarily on Susitna’s tributaries. A study completed for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough by University of Alaska Anchorage Institute for Social and Economic Research found that spending related to sport- fishing for residents and non-residents generated between 900 and 1,900 local jobs and between $31 million and $64 million of personal income for people in the borough.
The Susitna watershed nourishes a rich and diverse ecosystem of boreal forest, open tundra and undisturbed tributaries. It is Alaska’s most popular destination for hunters and anglers because of its productive waters and wildlife habitat.
In 2012 more than 11,500 hunted in Game Management Unit (GMU) 13 with over 4,400 big game animals harvested (Table 1)8. Hunting outfitters and guides are reliant upon the health of this abundant ecosystem.
Tourism and Recreation
The headwaters of the Susitna flow from the glaciated flanks of Denali, America’s highest peak and the heart of the Alaska Range. In addition to Denali’s iconic peak, the region features many natural attractions, providing outdoor enthusiasts with a myriad of recreation opportunities, which in turn support hundreds of tourism and recreational based businesses. These businesses are supported by not only national and international visitors, but also by Anchorage residents who consider the Susitna their playground.
An estimated $201 million is spent annually by visitors in the Matanuska-Susitna area. This region includes Denali National Park, Denali State Park, and many in- credible state recreational areas that bring visitors from all over the world. Denali National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the United States and more than 375,000 visitors a year make their way to Alaska to experience this remarkable area (Table 2).