Break-up on the mighty Kenai

Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2005


  Ice caves loom along river banks as the mighty Kenai sheds its frozen skin.

Ice caves loom along river banks as the mighty Kenai sheds its frozen skin.

In other places on the planet they call this season spring, in Alaska it's known as Break-up, which needs no explanation to anyone viewing the Kenai River recently. As ice jams clear and box car size ice bergs break away from the river bank one might wonder about the biological effects this spectacle of Mother Nature is having on fish habitat. "It's pretty dynamic," says assistant area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, Larry Marsh, "Those big blocks of ice remove vegetation, take out bank restoration projects, they create back eddies by impeding the flow of water, they are a huge force and a primeval element of nature." The fish species however are well adapted to nature's primeval elements, "Salmon and trout have evolved with these conditions, and while the river may be absent of surface water, there is still subsurface water where the young fry and eggs can survive and incubate with the subsurface flows. As the surface ice melts it can liberate oxygen that can be used to provide the elements of life for the incubating fish just below the surface," said Marsh. Nevertheless, Marsh doesn't diminish the effect that natural episodes have on fishery resources and feels that habitat enhancement projects are all the more important, "The efforts that are being made have to be restored, rebuilt and maintained on a regular basis, but that doesn't lessen their importance to the habitat."

Marsh isn't concerned that the winter of 2005 has been that much out of the ordinary, but if he could choose would prefer the remainder of the break-up and melt off to come slowly, "If we get high water flows that liberates that grounded ice those bergs can go crashing and bashing here and there it would clearly increase the impact. This is a wild river and one of the great things about Alaska is that we haven't tried to modify or tame the rivers we have in this State like other places in the lower 48 and we've tried to maintain the wild dynamic nature of the Kenai River."

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