Charting a Future Course for Development: Natural Resources, Conservation, and Community Character in Coastal Alaska


  • Thomas G Safford University of New Hampshire
  • Megan Henly University of New Hampshire
  • Jessica D. Ulrich-Schad
  • Keith Perkins USDA - Rural Development Program


Dramatic social changes are occurring across rural America as traditional natural resource-based industries such as fishing and forestry decline, and amenity-driven development attracts new residents and visitors. These changes are altering not only the economies and cultural identities of rural communities, but also entire regions where seemingly similar towns respond to these social and economic shifts in distinct ways. Using survey data from 1,541 residents of Southeast Alaska, we examine individual views regarding the role of fishing, forestry, and tourism in this region's economic future.We also assess beliefs about the importance of conserving natural resources and the preservation of the area's cultural character within new development efforts. Findings show that social factors such as age, education, political party affiliation, and individuals' economic well-being, along with place of residence explain diverging views. Given the changing demographics and the shifting interconnections between different communities within rural regions, these results illustrate the importance of designing investigations that capture broad regional trends while also highlighting the key place-specific factors that shape beliefs about natural resource-related industries and the priorities for future rural development activities. Keywords: Rural development, natural resource management, conservation, social change, coastal Alaska