Letters to the Editor

Posted: Sunday, January 27, 2002

Poor resource management today means no resource tomorrow

Over the past five years, a non-profit youth program has been educating youth and local communities on environmental stewardship while restoring miles of valuable habitat along streams in Southcentral Alaska.

Now, with 2002 rolling in, it is more prevalent that the public education of impacts on our stream systems needs to be addressed. While restoration of habitat is a major concern, impacts to the resource are increasing.

Overfishing, crowding, targeting of genetic stocks, water quality contamination, erosion, evasion of exotic aquatic species, and habitat damage from hundreds of thousands of people are all impacting the ecosystem of Southcentral Alaska.

The decline of the large chinook salmon of the Kenai River is shown in Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports. The reports show that the 2001 test fishery captured less than 10 percent of the catch rate 13 years ago, which was 2,200. These genetic stocks of trophy fish began to be targeted by the sport fishery after the Alaska Board of Fisheries passed a proposal in the early 90s allowing targeting of this stock. Now after nearly a decade of derbies and overfishing by resident and non-resident fishers, they are on the verge of extinction.

An internal memo from Fish and Game suggests that this information not be brought up for public discussion as it would cause the public to loose confidence in their management abilities. Alaska draws 1.6 million visitors annually with 475,488 people purchasing sport fishing licenses each year. The State estimates that 75 percent of those travel to the Kenai Peninsula to fish -- that's 356,616 anglers over the age of 16.

This revenue benefits the Fish and Game Sport Fish Division to the tune of nearly $24 million annually.

It will be interesting to see just how public the department will be with their habitat studies just recently completed and due to be reported at the Alaska Board of Fish meeting in February. These studies show that one-third of a meter of Kenai riverbank habitat has been lost annually due to public impacts. At best, with organizations and agencies working together, they are completing approximately one mile of restoration annually.

This accelerated rate of erosion shown on the 84 miles of the Kenai River does include impact on the smaller rivers and streams here on the Kenai Peninsula. The fact that habitat studies do not look into these smaller impacted systems is due to lack of funding.

Concentrating these impacts to specific areas has been having a dramatic effect on Alaska residents and resources, which shows in their interest in buying fishing licenses. During the Knowles administration, the tactics of protecting the resource for Alaska residents is to take from Peter to give to Paul, ignoring hot issues and increasing agency funding through fishing license revenues. By taking from the private sector commercial fishing industry, Knowles has aided in crippling an economic industry here on the Kenai Peninsula, while benefiting, a new industry -- guided professional commercial fishers -- who are assisting in increasing the impacts on the very resource that many people come to Alaska for.

Lets not quibble over tourism because some folks would come to Alaska to see its beauty even if we did not have fish. Which is the direction I feel we are going under this current direction of allocation, set up by Gov. Knowles, who in my opinion has solved nothing except pitting neighbor against neighbor. He's divided this community because it doesn't fit his agenda and because of personality differences, ignoring voters who live and work here and dozens of youth that have put hearts into restoring habitat in an effort so everyone can benefit.

It's time we deal with these issues. I urge you to watch this Board of Fish meeting in February closely, their agenda is self-motivated and has political control over Fish and Game, which is too powerful for these members to control. Management of our resource is failing under this current system and Alaska needs to gain control for the benefit of Alaskans, not revenues and outside interests. When biological management is controlled by politicians and political groups the resource becomes the loser and our youth will pay the price for our greed. Are we willing to accept that?

Kelly Wolf, director,

Youth Restoration Corps

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