Roads, habitat destruction and even other fish pose serious threats to Cook Inlet salmon -- juvenile salmon in particular.
Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded several grants to area organizations that propose to help these vulnerable fish in a variety of ways. The grants were awarded as part of Fish and Wildlife's Alaska Region Coastal Conservation Grants Program, which this year awarded roughly $200,000 to participating government and nongovernment agencies in Southcentral and Southeast Alaska.
Agencies receiving funds through the program on the Kenai Peninsula are the Kenai Watershed Forum, Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust. The money will be used by the groups for several projects designed to ensure the future health of salmon runs on the peninsula, either directly or indirectly.
The Kachemak Heritage Land Trust plans to use the money mainly to obtain conservation easements and expand existing programs. According to Director Barbara Seaman, the group will use the funds to further its mission of protecting wild areas on the peninsula, with the support of landowners.
"We work with willing landowners to preserve natural areas. It's a good thing for the future of the peninsula," said Seaman.
She said once the group obtains a conservation easement, it must then monitor the area to make sure it remains in its natural state. She said landowners reserve the right to develop their property, as long as it doesn't interfere with the easement.
"Our charge is to monitor and see that (the easement is) being adhered to," Seaman said.
The Kenai Watershed Forum plans to use the funds to help young salmon pass through a culvert in Silver Salmon Creek more easily.
According to the group's director, Robert Ruffner, the grant won't cover all the expenses of putting in a more salmon-friendly culvert. However, it will allow the the group to do the preliminary design and engineering work.
Ruffner said the reason culverts need to be replaced is simple.
"The issue is that they don't function properly. Streams are dynamic, and the sediment is shifting. It's the little guys that are having a problem," he said.
He said due to those stream dynamics, sediment builds up in culverts, making it difficult for juvenile salmon to pass through. The plan is to begin replacing culverts where the need is the greatest.
He noted the reason the Silver Salmon Creek site was chosen is because the culvert impacts both chinook and coho salmon and other federal and state dollars were not available. The group plans to start on the project in late May.
Fish and Game intends to use the money to fund a program to remove northern pike from the Soldotna Creek drainage. Northern pike, a species that is not indigenous to the peninsula, has become a greater concern for wildlife managers because of the harm the predatory fish can do to native salmon stocks. Pike prey on small salmon and trout and have the potential to devastate peninsula fish populations.
According to Fish and Wildlife, the Alaska Region Coastal Program began in 2000. Since then, the service has awarded more than $500,000 in grant money to organizations that identify, restore and protect coastal ecosystems in Alaska.
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