Helping fish on the Kenai through the National Fish Habitat Action Plan

Posted: Friday, March 25, 2011

Here in North America we are blessed with what many scientists believe is the greatest freshwater biodiversity on the planet. Most of this biodiversity is made up of aquatic invertebrates and fishes. Unfortunately, the news is not all good. We also have an alarming number of fish species in jeopardy. Across the country our fisheries are facing a conservation crisis with 700 North American species of fish considered imperiled, and mare than half of this group is federally listed as threatened or endangered. Habitat degradation is the main culprit in the demise of these fish species and is the driving force in the establishment of the National Fish Habitat Action Plan (NFHAP; http://fishhabitat.org/).

The mission of the NFHAP is to protect, restore, and enhance the nation's fish and aquatic communities through partnerships that foster fish habitat conservation and improve the quality of life for the American people. The Action Plan is a national effort based on local participation that is non-regulatory, science based, and partnership driven. The Action Plan was established in 2006 with four main objectives to be completed by 2010:

* Analyze the condition of all fish habitats in the U.S.;

* Prepare a report on the status of fish habitats in the U.S.;

* Identify priority fish habitats across the country and establish fish habitat partnerships targeting these habitats; and

* Establish at least 12 fish habitat partnerships across the country.

These were lofty objectives but all were completed by the 2010 deadline. The Action Plan's Science and Data team completed condition analyses of all streams in the Lower 48 and a habitat risk assessment of Alaska and Hawaii. Alaska and Hawaii were assessed differently due to a lack of data sets consistent with the Lower 48 states. The report that summarized habitat conditions, "Through a Fish's Eye: The Status of Fish Habitats in the United States 2010", was completed in December and will be released this April. Thanks to the grassroots efforts of the individual habitat partnerships, critical fish habitats were identified and projects implemented to maintain and conserve them. The last objective has been exceeded with the formation of 17 partnerships which have been approved by the National Fish Habitat Board. We are fortunate to have three Alaska partnerships: the Mat-Su Basin Salmon Habitat Partnership, Southwest Alaska Salmon Habitat Partnership, and the Kenai Peninsula Fish Habitat Partnership.

The Kenai Peninsula Fish Habitat Partnership (http://office.kenaiwatershed.org/KPFHP/) began in 2007 when a small group of interested parties were recognized by the National Board as a Candidate Partnership. The group then formed an ad-hoc organizing committee tasked with developing a strategic plan and becoming a recognized Fish Habitat Partnership. In late 2008 and early 2009, the organizing committee held a series of public meetings to identify threats to fish habitat and develop a strategic plan to address these threats. Invitations to join the Partnership and participate in its development were sent to a wide range of non-profit groups, sport and commercial fishing groups, native organizations, and local governments across the peninsula. These planning meetings resulted in the establishment of topics that the Partnership's strategic plan would focus on to meet the desired future condition of fish habitats on the Kenai Peninsula. The Partnership's six focal areas and goal statements are:

* Partnership: Ensure organizational capacity and effective operating systems are in place for the Partnership to make positive and lasting contributions to the protection and the restoration of fish and aquatic habitat.

* Biological Complexity: Protect, restore and maintain the biological integrity of ecosystems that support healthy fish habitat.

* Water Quality and Quantity: Ensure necessary water quality and quantity to support healthy fish communities and aquatic ecosystems.

* Science and Technology: Facilitate and increase the use and availability of scientific knowledge to guide Partnership priorities, policy development and management decision making.

* Education: Increase the awareness and knowledge of the goals and objectives of the Partnership for everyone that lives, works, recreates, visits, regulates or otherwise has an influence on the strategic issues of the Partnership.

* Policy: Identify, prioritize and communicate the importance of adequate regulations, polices and planning processes to support the protection of fish habitat necessary to support self-sustaining fish populations.

In January 2010, the Partnership received full fish habitat partnership status from the National Board. Since gaining recognition, the Partnership has established a steering committee to guide operations and has successfully supported several restoration projects. The Partnership assisted the Homer Soil and Water Conservation District in reducing sediment into Beaver Creek, aided the Kenai Watershed Forum in reconnecting fragmented habitat, and is working to identify salmon streams not currently in the State of Alaska's Anadromous Waters Catalog.

In addition to these projects, the Partnership Steering Committee has completed a strategic plan which will be unveiled at the upcoming Partnership meeting April 19th from 12-4 PM at the Cook Inlet Aquaculture building. If you or your organization would like to join or learn more about the Kenai Peninsula Fish Habitat Partnership, please join us on April 19th.

Mike Edwards is the Partners for Fish & Wildlife biologist at the Kenai Field Office. For more detailed information about the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, you can check the refuge website at http://kenai.fws.gov, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/kenainationalwildliferefuge.



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