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Fragile Kasilof dunes in danger

Vehicles driving to river mouth hurt sensitive areas

Posted: Tuesday, June 21, 2005

As the Kasilof River personal-use set gillnet fishery continues in full swing and the personal-use dipnet fishery prepares to open, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is hoping fishery participants remember their "dunes" and don'ts.

"If people are courteous and use a little common sense, there shouldn't be too many problems," said Jeff Fox, an area management biologist with Fish and Game.

Fox is adamant that all fishery participants stay off dunes to protect the fragile areas that hold the river mouth in place and prevent saltwater from flooding into surrounding lowlands that are used as a rearing area for juvenile fish and a nesting area for several species of waterfowl and shorebirds.

Without the dunes as a barrier, the intrusion of saltwater could change this habitat and impact the wildlife that uses this area.

"Dune damage is one of our biggest concerns. They can get damaged really fast," he said.

Most dune damage comes from fishery participants who opt to drive their their trucks, cars and ATVs over them, either to avoid the risk of getting stuck in the sand on the beach or just for a shorter route.

"Some people think, 'What's the big deal? How much damage can be done by one person,' so they do it," Fox said.

Fox said that last year more than 1,300 people participated in the set gillnet fishery, and when even a small fraction of that many people all think they're the only ones cutting through the dunes, the damage can add up quickly and significantly.

Fish and Game has taken steps to prevent dune erosion by posting signs and erecting a guardrail a few years ago to prevent access to the south bank Kasilof dunes.

This alleviated some of the impact, but not all of it, according to Fox. Some motorists still choose to drive around the guardrail and onto the dunes — an illegal act, since the dunes are on private land.

"There's not as much compliance as what we would like to see," he said.

According to Fish and Game, the proper procedure for accessing this fishery on the Kasilof south shore is to follow the extension of North Cohoe Loop Road to the beach and drive around to the river mouth on the beach below the high-tide mark.

It requires a four-wheel drive vehicle to drive down to the beach. Taking RVs, travel trailers or the family car down to the beach is not advised.

On the Kasilof north shore, people can access the fishery by following Kasilof Beach Road through state land to the area near the river mouth then walking or driving to the river below the high-tide mark.

In addition to making a concerted effort to protect the dunes, Fish and Game also encourages all fishery participants to keep a "leave no trace" ethic and pack out everything at the end of the fishery that they packed in.

"We don't want people leaving any kind of trash behind. Everything should be picked up and removed — and that includes rebar," Fox said, referring to the metal rods that are driven into the beach at low tide, used as part of a pulley system for pulling in set gillnets that get weighed down with salmon.

To assist participants in keeping the beach clean, Dumpsters and portable toilets will be available again this year throughout the fishery.

"People should also show caution with their fires," Fox said.

Open fires are permitted only on the beach, and only below the high-tide line.

"They're not to be within 25 feet of any vegetation, and they definitely shouldn't be up on the bluff," Fox said.

Also, fires should never be left unattended and should not be lit during dry, windy conditions.

"All fires should be thoroughly put out," Fox added.

This can be achieved by dousing them with water and shoveling in sand. This process should be repeated until the materials are cool to the touch with bare hands.



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