Thursday, September 1, 2016

Visitors polled in Alaska public lands survey

Survey aides Charly McConaghy and Josh Benson pose in front of Mendenhall
College students and recent graduates are traveling Alaska this summer, surveying visitors about their experiences on public lands.

SNRE Associate Professor Peter Fix, who is coordinating the survey, said that about 3,000 recreation and subsistence users of public lands will be surveyed by Labor Day weekend.

Fix, who teaches outdoor recreation management, has been conducting recreation surveys for state and federal agencies over the past 12 years, but this is the largest survey conducted on-site. The survey is part of a three-year $399,407 cooperative agreement from the Bureau of Land Management.

Fix said survey responses will be analyzed this fall and will help agencies determine how Alaskans and other visitors access public lands and whether that access is adequate or needs to be improved. They will also provide information on visitors’ activities and their experiences.
Survey aide Josh Benson interviews tourists at Mendenhall Glacier.

 “Hopefully, it will lead to better planning for federal lands in the region,” says Fix.

The survey began Memorial Day weekend. Six survey aides based in Fairbanks, Soldotna and Juneau have been interviewing resident and nonresident visitors at trailheads, campgrounds, visitor centers, tourist destinations and parks, including Mendenhall Glacier, White Mountains National Recreation Area, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Kenai Fjords and Denali national parks. They’ve also interviewed cruise ship and Alaska ferry passengers that travel through public lands.

Survey sites were chosen by representatives from entities that manage public lands in Alaska, including BLM, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Samples are taken on a variety of weekend and weekday dates, and include certain dates, timed to take advantage, for instance, of the height of the fishing season at the Russian River, the silver salmon derby in Seward and moose hunting in the Nome Creek Valley near Fairbanks. The visitors answer questions on iPads or on paper and are sent follow-up surveys by email.

Fix said that more than three-quarters of visitors contacted completed the survey and 40 percent of individuals who were sent the follow-up survey completed that.

Fix said that visitors to Alaska have been slightly more willing to complete the surveys than residents. He theorizes why: “It’s a pretty unique experience for them and they’re jazzed about telling people about it.” 

Coordinating a statewide survey was challenging, Fix said, but it was made possible with the assistance of Cooperative Extension Service faculty and staff who helped the aides with logistics and training.

Trisha Levasseur, a senior at UAF this fall, traveled Interior Alaska this summer interviewing visitors and is helping Fix analyze the data as part of a university internship. She enjoyed going to the sites, hanging out and talking to people.

Levasseur, who is French-Canadian, got to use her French to interpret the survey for tourists in Denali.

“It was pretty friendly,” she said.

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