Study shows Kenai River wetlands shrinking

Posted: Sunday, June 09, 2002

KENAI (AP) -- A new federal study indicates the wetlands that support the Kenai River system are drying up -- but at a much slower rate than other developed areas of the state and the Lower 48.

The study, commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency and conducted by the Fish and Wildlife Service, analyzed total wetland acreage in the lower Kenai River area between 1950 and 1996.

It was done to determine the effects of development in the Kenai, Soldotna and Sterling areas on wetlands that support the Kenai River Watershed.

Fish and Wildlife researchers Jonathan Hall and Sheila Kratzner looked at aerial photographs and maps from 1950, 1977 and 1996. Using advanced measuring equipment, they mapped and compared data to determine how much wetland acreage was lost.

The results are both an indication that the river is in good shape and a warning that wetland loss in the watershed is real, said Phil North, EPA Kenai watershed coordinator.

''We have lost a significant portion (of wetlands) so far. It's not major yet, but we're moving in that direction,'' he said.

The study was confined to 149,459 acres between Skilak Lake and the mouth of the Kenai. Of that area, roughly 32.1 percent is classified as wetlands or deepwater habitats, including lakes and streams.

The report concludes that between 1950 and 1996, a total of 707 acres, or 1.7 percent, of wetlands within the study area was lost.

North said that is not nearly as high as other areas, such as Anchorage, but it does represent a threat to the stability of the river system and the community in general.

''This is our warning that we're not immune from affecting the river,'' he said.

North said Anchorage has lost more than 50 percent of its wetlands during the past 50 years. ''And the salmon are struggling in their streams,'' he said.

According to the study, most of the wetlands lost have been filled for either residential developments, roads or industrial uses.

The study shows how the sources of wetlands loss have changed as the peninsula has developed. Between 1950 and 1977, 54.9 percent of wetlands loss was the result of road construction and industrial development. During that same time, residential wetlands loss accounted for just 18.9 percent of the total.

As development trends began to shift from infrastructure and industry to residential development, those numbers shifted. Between 1977 and 1996, residential loss accounted for the loss of 68.78 acres, or 48.9 percent of loss.

That compares to 33.3 percent attributed to road construction and industrial development.

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