KENAI (AP) -- Increased riding by illegal snowmachiners on the Kenai River flats is a threat to the habitat there, rangers say, but they don't have the resources to patrol the area.
The problem, as Bill Berkhahn sees it, is that there's just enough snow on the Kenai River flats to ride snowmachines, but not enough to protect the vegetation under the snow from damage the snowmachines may cause.
Berkhahn is the district ranger for the Kenai River Special Management Area. He admits to occasionally turning a blind eye when there's plenty of snow to protect the lush saltwater marsh that supports migratory birds, caribou and moose. But the fact is, snowmachine riding is not allowed on KRSMA land.
''Even though that's true, we are hard-pressed to enforce it due to lack of staff and means of getting out there and do enforcing,'' he said. ''In a normal snow year, there's not a high concern about it, but the area around Birch Island is just getting hammered this year.''
He said there is little chance the Division of Parks will be able to patrol the area.
''And there's not much we can do unless we are there the same time they are and they come when we wave them over,'' he said. ''What we're looking to do is educate people not to drive on it. It's hard to chase people down and do an infield education effort.
''By allowing these snowmachines to drive over the vegetation, they're breaking off branches and crushing lichen and grasses,'' he said. ''Will (the vegetation) return? Sure, but if we allow snowmachine use now, it could get worse next year and worse the year after.''
The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is also low on snow so far this season, but there's not as much problem with snowmachiners.
''People have been pretty cooperative,'' said Supervisory Park Ranger Bill Kent. ''Our folks are out there, but it's a question of being in the right place at the right time.''
The refuge, by law, cannot be opened to snowmachine use until Dec. 1, and only if there is enough snow to protect the vegetation.
The same is true for the Chugach National Forest where 2 1/2 feet of snow has melted down to a foot or so due to recent rains. Forest Service rangers have issued about 10 tickets to snowmachiners in areas such as Turnagain Pass, said public affairs officer Doug Stockdale.
''Unless we get lots of snow by Saturday, it doesn't look like we'll open,'' Stockdale said. ''It's really not suitable to ride on right now.''
More information on conditions in the Chugach National Forest can be found at its Web site: www.fs.fed.us/r10/chugach.
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