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Russian River opens to anglers, agencies address public concerns

Posted: June 11, 2012 - 8:40am  |  Updated: June 11, 2012 - 12:18pm

The Russian River opens to fishing on Monday, and multiple agencies are urging anglers and visitors to remain respectful of nature.

Officials are implementing changes to reduce human-bear conflicts on the river. From April to October 2011, management agencies conducted a public process to gather potential methods for reducing those conflicts.

The agencies are developing a five-year action plan for management of the Kenai-Russian River area. They hope to finalize the plan by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The plan's implementation was set for 2012-2016, but the approach of summer has caused officials to shift priorities and focus on their annual operations, said Bobby Jo Skibo, Russian River Interagency Management Coordinator.

Small projects based on concerns gathered from the public process, however, are being implemented before the five-year plan is finalized. The projects include pushing educational messages of fish-waste management and cutting overgrown vegetation. Larger projects still are being researched, Skibo said.

In 2011, there were no bears killed in defense of life or property (DLP) in the Russian River area. In 2008, eight bears DLP killings occurred, up from a previous high of four bears in 2003, according to the Forest Service.

A prominent concern during the public process was fish waste management. Food storage regulations have been implemented for the season. Further, the Forest Service is asking anglers to practice extra cleaning measures.

"They can do their part and help us move fish waste out into the faster current, and we hope that will minimize the attainment of the waste from bears," Skibo said.

Anglers are requested to:

* Take fish out whole when possible and manage fish waste offsite in a responsible manner (gutting and gilling is acceptable).

* Stop, chop and throw. If anglers wish to clean fish onsite, use cleaning tables at the confluence area or Russian River ferry site. Stop at a table, chop filleted fish waste into small pieces and throw the remains into fast-moving river current.

* Move fish waste encountered along the shore or hanging up on rocks or branches into faster water so it will disperse downstream.

Skibo acknowledged a lot of seasoned anglers already practice these precautions. Others, however, leave their waste behind.

"It's equivalent to litter being left behind, so we're asking, instead of picking up and hauling the litter away, just keep the fish waste moving to get it out of the river so it doesn't attract bears," she said.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, a member of the interagency group, also has placed additional restrictions in the area of the ferry at Cooper Landing. Food, beverages and garbage must be locked in a bear-resistant container and within reaching distance; caught fish not yet locked away must be within 12 feet; and pets must be kept on a leash no longer than six feet.

The restrictions are in effect from May 25 to Oct. 1 on all lands and waters within a quarter-mile of the Russian and Kenai Rivers, extending from the Russian River Falls downstream to the confluence of the of the Kenai River and continuing down the mainstream to the power line crossing.

Another project aimed at reducing human-bear conflicts is the shearing of tall grass along the Russian River's access points and paths.

Vegetation and cultural sites around the river's paths were successfully restored over several seasons.

In early July, the Forest Service will cut tall grass to increase visibility for visitors. Vegetation at some points on the river's trail reaches seven feet.

"It towers over people," Skibo said. "So, we'll be trimming those down to two or three feet in some areas.

"That's another issue that people were concerned about. It was definitely emphasized as a need (during the public process)."

In terms of future projects, the interagency group is prioritizing action that would allow for the construction of an on-site fish processing facility. Although, the group still is identifying the best options.

Two proposals discussed during the public process were stationary grinders or a mobile vendor, which could process, pack and seal fish for anglers, Skibo said.

The Forest Service is also proposing to reconstruct portions of the Russian River campground near Cooper Landing.

Updating facilities like the restrooms and improving accessibility to its campsites are the focus, said John Eavis, Seward Ranger District recreation program leader. To begin the project, the service will conduct an environmental assessment, surveying the area for cultural sites and condition of plants and animals. 

In addition, the service is requesting public comment on a potential site for a fish waste processing facility. If the interagency group's plans come to fruition then the campground already will have a chosen spot, Eavis said.

Other concerns voiced by anglers that the agencies will address over the course of the five-year plan include firearm safety -- anglers should use firearms only in situations and not as noise makers, Skibo said -- people approaching bears too close and visitors coming to the river ill-prepared.

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.

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