Kenai Watershed Forum earns $60K grant from ConocoPhillips
For the last ten years the Kenai Watershed Forum (KWF) has distinguished itself as a conservation group that researches local problems, creates solutions, and then goes to partner and initiate those solutions. At last week’s Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon meeting KWF’s executive director Robert Ruffner announced they would be receiving a $60,000 grant from ConocoPhillips to restore fish passage along Leaf creek, where a culvert was recently crushed, preventing fish from migrating to several miles of spawning grounds.
In 2005, ConocoPhillips Alaska Inc. re-energized an existing program - Earth Energy Partners - under a corporate environmental initiative. Earth Energy Partners was originally established in the early 1990s to raise employee awareness and engagement in waste reduction, reuse and recycling efforts. According to Ruffner the program is now part of ConocoPhillips’ ongoing conservation effort throughout Alaska.
ConocoPhillips is currently partnering with the Alaska Departments of Fish and Game, Transportation, and Natural Resources (Division of Parks), the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the Kenai Watershed Forum to kick off a program along the North Road Right-of-Way extension, North of Captain Cook State Park. The remote trail provides access along a shared pipeline easement to Gray Cliff Subdivision. The $60,000 grant from ConocoPhillips to the Kenai Watershed Forum through the Earth energy partner’s initiative is just part of about $1.5 million that ConocoPhillips has committed to spending for environmental projects around the state.
Ruffner told the Kenai Chamber that KWF is focusing on restoration programs, “Several years of research has indicated to us that the most beneficial habitat restoration work for fish that we can invest in at this time is at road crossings where culverts are either too small or have been placed to high in the road prism that there is a water fall that juvenile smolts can’t migrate back and forth through. It’s really a problem that hasn’t received enough attention in our assessment, so every summer we have been undertaking projects such as the North Road Right-of-Way extension which will replace the culvert and open up miles and tens of miles of new stream habitat. We feel this will have a long range benefit to our fisheries and that the value if you calculate the price per foot or mile of habitat gained, it outweighs anything else we can do at this time in the way of restoration, and we are very happy to receive the cooperative support from partnerships such as the ConocoPhillips grant,” said Ruffner.
KWF has also become known for their research of fuel entering the Kenai River during the summer months from motor boats. “One of the things that makes our group stand out and that we are proud of is that when we do research and find an issue that we think needs attention we try to solve it, the culvert issue is an example of that as well as the Kenai River two-stroke motor buy back program,” said Ruffner.
The two-stroke buy back program administered through the Kenaize Native Tribe, is for anyone using a two-stroke motor on the Kenai River and allows for a $500 cash credit toward a new motor, “Yamaha is also matching that which gives a two-stroke owner $1,000 towards off a new Yamaha. We can also help people find a used 4-stroke motor which the $500 credit can also apply too, and this is for everyone, not just tribe members,” said Brenda Trefon, Kenaitze tribal environmental protection officer.
Additionally working through the Kenai River Center, a multi-governmental group of agencies charged with regulating local streams and rivers, Ruffner told the Chamber that KWF had been able to create a reliable source of wetland maps that are now available for agencies and property owners, “We spent four years on developing those maps and they are now available so that people who want to undertake construction projects whether they be road or pipeline projects, individuals don’t have to spend the time and money up front to identify the wetlands and sorting out the details. So now we have one common source of data for wetlands that people can use at the design phase of a project that makes a win-win situation for everybody,” explained Ruffner.
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