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Funds granted for 2 Peninsula-based conservation projects

Posted: January 6, 2013 - 8:11pm

The Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund granted preliminary approval to fund two projects aimed at protecting fish habitats on the Kenai Peninsula.

The Sport Fisheries Division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game aims to eradicate northern pike in western portion of Soldotna Creek. Fish and Game will treat the drainage in two to three phases, said fisheries biologist Robert Massengill.

“(Fish and Game) will work through the entire project covering costs, but the bulk of funding for the first part comes from Sustainable Salmon,” Massengill said.

The Sport Fisheries Division also received funding for the continuation of a more than decade old project, the Kenai Cost Share Project, aka the Kenai River Project. Both proposals now go through a review process to finalize the details. The biologists handling the Peninsula-based projects have clear objectives, they said.

The fund is comprised of the state’s received funds from the federal Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund. Congress established PCFRS in 2000 to protect Pacific salmon and steelhead populations and habitats. Fish and Game manages the statewide program.

Fish and Game allocates funds to organizations outside of its agency. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough received $1.1 million through the fund for a fish passage restoration project; the Organized Village of Kasaan, a federally recognized tribal government, in conjunction with the Hydaburg Cooperative Association received $116,924 for a Prince of Wales stream habitat-mapping project.

The total available funds will be known once Congress appropriates them in June or July, said AKSSF assistant program manager Debbie Maas.

Proposals submitted to the fund must address a high priority objective for the region in which the project takes place. The Peninsula falls under Fish and Game’s Central region. Its goals include habitat conservation, stock assessment and salmon and steelhead management systems, with multiple objectives outlined under each goal.

The pike eradication project was approved for $298,629 in funding.

Northern pike reduce the quality of fishing in Southcentral Alaska and threaten wild and stocked fisheries. Although pike are native throughout most of the state, they do not occur naturally south and east of the Alaska Range except for a small population near Yakutat.

Soldotna Creek’s four lakes — Derks, Union, East and West Mackey — support the bulk of the pike population in the creek’s drainage, Massengill said. It is likely biologists will chemically treat the western portion of Soldotna Creek, which includes the lakes and their connecting streams, two to three times as flowing waters are difficult to treat successfully, he said.

Fish and Game will use Rotenone in the waters, a widely-use and commercially available pesticide. The Environmental Protection Agency registers Rotenone as a restricted-use pesticide for fish management.

Rotenone was chosen after Fish and Game held public scoping meetings last spring. The options ranged from netting the area to chemical treatment, Massengill said. They felt Rotenone was cost effective, the best chance at success and the safest method for protecting the rest of the Kenai River, he said.

Once the lakes and streams are treated, a temporary barricade will be placed at the outlet of Derks Lake.

“If we barricade the outlet to the rest of the Soldotna Creek drainage then we’ve created a pike-free zone, and that’s what we’re shooting for with this first step,” Massengill said.

Two methods are used to stop Rotenone from entering the Kenai River. First, Fish and Game relies on dilution to render the chemical ineffective; if the outflow of treated and untreated water is below 2.0 parts per billion, no measures for removal are needed, according to the chemical’s label. Second, applying small amounts of potassium permanganate can chemically deactivate Rotenone, a method Fish and Game is well equipped to handle, Massengill said.

Data will be collected during summer 2013 while treatment will begin the following year, he said. The project still needs to go through an extensive permitting process, including an environmental assessment where the public will get a chance to comment.

The Kenai Cost Share Project “Phase 3” was approved for $340,828 in funding.

Habitat biologist Dean Hughes said the third phase is simply a continuation of a project that began in 1995. The project is a financial incentive and educational outreach initiative directed toward private landowners and public land managers. The project provides funding and technical project design assistance to sustain and enhance salmon habitat on the Peninsula.

“On the Kenai, what that translates to is access to the river,” Hughes said. “Fish and Game supports access, so things we do, specifically, are re-vegetate river banks, build walkways and paths and pull junk out of the water.”

Biologists complete an average of 30 rehabilitation and protection projects a year, he said. Past projects’ price tags varied widely, from a $300 re-vegetation projects to a $100,000 project to remove a massive jetty from the river. Many projects have landowners contributing half the price of a project while Fish and Game contributes a portion, as well.

Hughes said the most important facet of the continuation of the project is education, however.

“It’s imperative to educate people about how to protect their riverfronts without destroying the fish habitat,” he said.

The majority of the projects are based near the lower portions of the Kenai River, as far north as Moose River.

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

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