By HEATHER FULLER
Anyone who has been on the Kenai River in the summer knows there's a lot going on. From the fishermen and guides in boats, to anglers trying their luck from the banks, it's a busy place. Along with recreational activities on the river, many people enjoy the world renowned fishing from the comfort of their own private stream banks.
All of this activity can lead to negative impacts on stream banks such as loss of overhanging vegetation, loss of undercut banks, and changes to water velocities. These impacts effect bank stability and near shore fish habitat, which is critical for juvenile salmonids.
As a biologist at the Kenai Fish and Wildlife Field Office, it is my job to cooperatively administer, with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Kenai Cost-Share Habitat Restoration and Protection Program. We help landowners conduct voluntary restoration projects by providing technical expertise and funds for their project. The goals of our program are threefold: to remove structures from the river that are detrimental to juvenile salmonids, protect healthy in-stream and riparian habitat, and rehabilitate human impacted and eroding shorelines. Partnering with landowners is critical to achieving these goals.
One particular area of the river where have worked recently is the Kenai Keys. We began working with a group of landowners in this area in 1999 to remove creosote bulkheads, rock gabions, rip-rap, and metal and concrete debris, replacing them with a more natural stream bank using bio-engineered techniques such as rootwads, brush layering, native vegetated mat, planting willow and alders, cabled spruce trees, and elevated light penetrating gratewalks.
In 2010, we completed our most recent project in the Kenai Keys with Paul and Anh Benbrook. While they had no detrimental structures such as bulk heads or concrete debris that needed to be removed, their bank was highly erodible and the high water event of that year prompted them to look at doing a restoration project. I recently spoke with Paul regarding his experience of doing a streambank restoration project with the Cost-Share Program. Here is what he shared with me:
How did you find out about the cost share program?
I was aware of the program because I had a permit for a gratewalk and cabled spruce tree revetment that were part of a Cost-Share Project that had been done with the previous owner. I also had neighbors that had rootwad projects and those looked like a good solution.
Describe what your bank was like before?
Before the project our bank was covered with spruce trees cabled in. Underneath those it was very vertical with a lot of loose rock and dirt. The bank was eroding from lots of boat wakes from the past king fishery in the area and people used to stand on the bank.
Much better! The bank looks tremendous! The rootwads handle boat wakes and even high water events very well. You can even see a little ecosystem within the rootwad fans.
What challenges did you as a landowner experience doing the project/process?
Well it started with the 2009 floods, and with us frantically putting in spruce trees on our property. Our neighbor, who had a large bulkhead, but still experienced erosion from the high water event, called the Cost-Share Program and they did a site visit and put together a rootwad project. It all seemed to happen very quickly. We wanted the same thing. So I put in a request around the same time and it took quite awhile to hear back, longer than my neighbor. When we did, it was using a different technique that we weren't sure would work for our bank. We really wanted the rootwads because of the lack of maintenance in comparison to cabled spruce trees. We were tired of doing those trees. We went ahead and agreed to do the project that was recommended but when our contractor began excavating the bank, we found that we really did need to go with the rootwads and they changed the scope of work for the project. Sometimes the process was slow and that was frustrating, but it all turned out well.
How were those challenges overcome?
There was a high level of cooperation from everyone involved in the project. Our contractor was instrumental in the communicating with the Cost-Share Program. When he started excavating the bank and realized what was underneath the spruce tree revetment, we called the Cost-Share Program; they came on site, and adjusted the project.
Overall, were you happy with the outcome of your project?
Yes, we are happy with everything, except one thing; it did put a bit more undulation in our bank and changed our prime fishing spot. So I'm putting in for a permit to get a second a second gratewalk to get at the new spot.
Would you recommend the cost-share program to other landowners?
In the Cost-Share Program we strive to keep the process as simple and practical, with as few hoops to jump through, as possible. Sometimes the complexities of a site and not knowing what's just below the surface can throw a project off track. In the end, through communication and working together, the Benbrook's project met both the goals of our program (to protect and restore fish habitat) and those of the landowner's (to be able maintain their streambank and enjoy their beautiful property on the Kenai).
If you would like to participate in the Kenai Cost Share Program or just want to learn more about our projects, call Heather Fuller at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Kenai Field Office at 1-800-822-6550.
Heather Fuller is a fish and wildlife biologist at the Kenai Fish and Wildlife Field Office in Soldotna. For more detailed information about the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, you can check the refuge website at http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/fieldoffice/kenai/index.htm or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/USFWS_Region-7-Fisheries-and-Habitat/180349382004304.
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