River Watch program suggested

Posted: Sunday, April 11, 2004

Fully enforcing fishing, boating safety and other rules and regulations on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers has, in the past, proven to be not just difficult, but virtually impossible.

Alaska State Parks rangers, Alaska State Troopers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers and the U.S. Forest Service all patrol sections of the river, but there are more users than enforcement officers. They just can't be everywhere all the time.

A group of concerned citizens is hoping to lend a hand to the problem with a River Watch proposal.

"This is one way to move past the differences we have between user groups and focus on protecting our rivers," said proposal facilitator Jim Kuhnsman.

According to Kuhnsman, the proposal is an effort to create a community-based volunteer group whose purpose would be to promote safety and fun and discourage illegal and destructive behavior on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers.

The Soldotna-Kenai Fish and Game Advisory Committee voted unanimously to support the project on March 17, Kuhnsman said.

He added that the proposal also has been sent to the Soldotna and Kenai chambers of commerce, Kenai Visitors and Convention Bureau, Kenai Peninsula Tourism and Market-ing Council and the Kenaitze Indian Tribe IRA.

"Those five organizations are currently considering the proposal to determine if they want to offer their support," Kuhnsman said. "We selected them because they cover a wide swath of the community, but we really want to find out from the community itself what kind of support we could get for this program."

State Park ranger Bill Berkhahn said he supports the proposal.

"We just don't have the staff to monitor every mile of the river 24 hours a day no agency does. But it would be nice to have a cadre of volunteers that could provide more oversight on the river.

"They would be there to educate and inform, not to enforce the law," he said.

Berkhahn added that the use of volunteers is nothing new.

"We have volunteers all around the river and in the campgrounds. This would just extend it onto the water," he said.

The River Watch proposal would entail monitoring the two rivers for 100 days, from June 1 to Labor Day. From 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., there would be two six-hour shifts patrolling in four sections of the river by boat, with at least two volunteers per boat. Boats would have a large "River Watch Boat" identification.

For dipnetting sites, there would be daytime shifts on the beaches in pairs.

Volunteers would have at least one full day of training under management of State Parks and other cooperating river enforcement agencies. Volunteers would wear a bright-colored vest and cap, have a photo ID, carry a camera and cell phone and be responsible for a no-confrontation policy.

All volunteers would be at least age 18 and have a valid Alaska driver's license. Anyone interested in volunteering for the program or in learning more specifics of the proposal should call 283-0147.

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