Healthy fish populations in the Kenai Peninsula Borough support a healthy community and a healthy economy, and healthy fish habitat provides the foundation for these fish populations to thrive. Healthy fish habitat supports viable commercial, sport, personal-use, and subsistence fisheries. Healthy fish habitat supports the local tourism industry. Healthy fish habitat supports real estate values in several communities. And healthy fish habitat supports numerous small businesses and community services throughout the Borough.
Recognizing the importance of fish habitat, many local stakeholder groups have been working tirelessly to protect, enhance, and restore this irreplaceable resource in southcentral Alaska. These groups realized that a coordinated approach and voice for fish habitat could go farther than individual efforts, so a few years ago, a coalition of over 20 groups joined forces to form the Kenai Peninsula Fish Habitat Partnership. The Kenai Partnership is a locally-driven offshoot of a larger national initiative that is working to reverse the declines of America’s fish habitats by protecting and restoring habitat, raising awareness of fish initiatives, and generating annual congressional support to improve aquatic habitat. There are nearly 20 fish habitat partnerships working across the country, and three of them are in Alaska.
The goal of the Kenai Partnership is to address habitat needs of freshwater and marine fish that spend some part of their lives in waters of the Kenai Peninsula Borough. The Partnership is taking a strategic approach to protecting healthy aquatic systems while working to restore degraded systems. The Partnership adopted a comprehensive plan in 2010 that set broad goals and objectives, and since 2009, the group has funded coordination efforts, on-the-ground restoration work, and assessment and monitoring projects. The Partnership’s outlay of $275,000 to date has been leveraged with matching funds of $650,000 from partners, resulting in over $900,000 for local conservation.
In order to keep a strategic focus and help guide future funding, the Kenai Partnership is currently wrapping up a year-long planning exercise using the Conservation Action Planning process developed by The Nature Conservancy and numerous other conservation organizations over the last 20 years. This process is designed to develop strategies and guide actions for conservation priorities and has been used by hundreds of teams working to conserve species, sites, ecosystems, landscapes, watersheds and seascapes across the globe.
The Kenai Partnership formed a team of scientists last spring to start the process, and over the course of several workshops, the science team has provided the basis for a set of strategies that will guide the Partnership over the next several years. The science team identified invasive species, incompatible road development, residential development in riparian areas, and warming climate as top concerns in the freshwater environment and the potential for catastrophic oil spills and shoreline development as top concerns in the marine environment. The science team identified several strategies to address these concerns, and these strategies will be presented to the full Partnership at an upcoming Science Symposium next week in Homer.
The Kenai Partnership will be hosting its inaugural Science Symposium at Islands and Ocean Visitor Center in Homer on April 17th and 18th. The Symposium will feature a discussion of the new conservation action plan, including the proposed strategies to address freshwater and marine habitat concerns. The Science Symposium will also feature guest speakers and a series of presentations and break-out groups focused on marine and freshwater habitats across the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
The Symposium will bring together a diverse group of people concerned with fish habitat and will offer opportunities to interact with researchers, habitat advocates, and the general public. Through scheduled networking and the “Meet, Greet, and Eat!” session, the symposium is poised to increase connections between scientists and researchers across southcentral Alaska and beyond.
The highlight of the upcoming Science Symposium will be an evening social and presentation by Dr. Randy Olson. Dr. Olson’s keynote address is titled “Winning Hearts and Minds Through a More Critical Approach to Storytelling.” A scientist-turned-filmmaker, Randy Olson was once a marine biology professor at the University of New Hampshire. After 15 years of telling stories of science, he had grown more interested in telling stories about science. He is the author of “Don’t Be Such a Scientist” as well as the writer and director of “The Ocean Symphony” and “Flock of Dodos”.
Today, Dr. Olson is a communications consultant to organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NASA, and the National Institute of Health. The keynote address is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. on April 17 at Islands and Ocean Visitor Center.
For more information about the Kenai Peninsula Fish Habitat Partnership and its upcoming Science Symposium in Homer, please check out the Partnership’s website at www.kenaifishpartnership.org. Don’t miss this opportunity to get involved and learn about fish habitat issues in southcentral Alaska!
Jeffry Anderson is a Supervisory Fishery Biologist at the Kenai Fish & Wildlife Field Office in Soldotna. Find more information about the Field Office at http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/fieldoffice/kenai/index.htm.