Biologist warns about impact of bike path

Posted: Monday, April 02, 2001

KENAI (AP) -- A state biologist is warning that a proposed bike path across the Kenai River flats between Soldotna and Kenai could spell trouble for migrating waterfowl.

''We have tens of thousands of waterfowl coming through that area,'' said retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game fishery biologist Ken Tarbox. ''They're wild birds, very wary of human activity. If you even get out of your car, they fly. A bike path with people on bikes and dogs may keep these birds moving to where they abandon the area altogether.''

The Unity Trail has been the dream of many local residents, said Kenai City Manager Rick Ross.

''It's been the city of Soldotna, the city of Kenai and all kinds of recreational users that have suggested for years that there should be some kind of trail looping between the two communities,'' he said.

Ross said most of the concerns that have been brought up can be addressed in the construction of the route or through regulations.

''Some people say the birds see the dogs and take off. Maybe we can keep the dogs out,'' he said.

The river flats are renowned as a place to watch migrating snow geese.

The state already has built the 6.5-mile segment along Kaliforn-sky Beach Road from Soldotna to Bridge Access Road, and a 2.5-mile segment down the Kenai Spur Highway from Bridge Access toward Kenai Central High School. Construction is scheduled to begin this summer on the remaining $2.8-million, 10.5-mile path down the Spur to Soldotna.

More than 100 species of ducks, geese, cranes, shorebirds and other birds visit the flats each spring, said Randall Davis, a state fishery biologist who has counted the birds each year since 1986, when he helped with a banding study of snow and cackling Canada geese. A few birds, including sandhill cranes, harriers and parasitic jaegers, stay to nest, he said.

The snow geese stop midway through the 3,000-mile migration from the Skagit-Fraser valley in British Columbia to nesting grounds on Wrangell Island off Siberia, he said.

Arctic terns stop en route from the southern tip of South America to nesting grounds as far north as Nome.

''There are lots of studies that indicate the presence of families, children and pets negatively impacts migrating birds,'' Davis said. ''Each time they flush, it's time wasted from what they need to be doing, which is resting and restoring their energy supplies.''



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