Do residents of the Kenai Peninsula deserve salmon? I am not sure they do.
That is a pretty blunt stance but the recent discussions over stream and lake buffers again points out that residents here do not care very much about salmon populations, except in the short term for economic gain. My dad said if you want to see where a person is going watch their feet not their eyes. Let's examine the footprints in the sand.
The history of the Peninsula and salmon protection is full of examples of poor stewardship. First, we have little to no zoning to define long term development relative to biological attributes needed to maintain salmon populations. Stream buffer discussions, for example, are replete with me, me, me attitudes with little regard for future generations who may want salmon in their culture.
Numerous technical papers, written about streamside vegetative buffers, have concluded that a 50-foot buffer along salmon streams and lakes is inadequate in the long term. Minimum fixed distances are at least 100 feet and variable width buffers are preferred. What does the Peninsula have? A 50 foot buffer and now we are debating removing or altering that distance against all biological rationale -- for what reason -- short term landowner desires for grass lawns and docks?
Landowners are not the only culprits. On the Kenai River and other Alaskan streams users have degraded habitat by putting hydrocarbons into the rivers in levels exceeding water quality standards. Today levels of silt and other materials, entering the Kenai River due to boat wake erosion, are causing water quality standards for turbidity to be exceeded in a five-mile section of the river.
What is the State agencies' and local residents' response? What I hear as a biologist and concerned citizen is prove it harms fish, it costs too much to fix, we do not want guides to be impacted, let's change the standards, or it may reduce fishing opportunity. Worse of all these arguments are being made by sport fishing organizations that claim to be habitat oriented and supported by local funds and fund raising events under the guise of habitat protection.
So do Peninsula residents deserve salmon? It is not too late to change the footprints in the sand. To do so will require a simple philosophy. We choose to have salmon in our future and our grandkids' future. We will put short-term gains in perspective of long term goals. We will pay the price, for salmon are not like weeds. They need nurturing and protections.
Finally, we will thank the federal government for federal laws and lands that provide to protection to our streams and lakes. For without these national protections we are probably incapable of protecting them from ourselves.