Study highlights habitat concerns on Kenai River

A new report from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game suggests that heavier human traffic along the Kenai River could be detrimental to salmon habitat.

The report has been in a draft stage with ADF&G for more than a decade, but was only just released last month. It says that no single factor is posing a big risk to fish habitat, but the cumulative effects of human behavior can prove significant.

Robert Begich is ADF&G’s area biologist for the sportfish division. He says the habitat study is still useful, but a lot has changed since work on the report first got underway.

“There’s been a lot of education about the sensitivity of the environment and what we do out there on the river,” Begich said. “Then we have the Borough and the cities and different non-governmental organiations participating in this and that’s why you see all the light-penetrating platforms…to prevent damage to the shoreline.”

Whether habitat protection and restoration efforts have been enough to affect fish populations in a measurable way is unknown, the report says.

Plenty of time has been spent on specific sites, but there’s a lack of overall information about the watershed. Begich says he’s not sure how or if this particular report will play when the Board of Fisheries takes up Cook Inlet issues next year, but fewer restrictions probably won’t happen.

“It’s always been taken into consideration and I think you’re likely to the areas that restricted remain restricted and perhaps more added, as some of the land becomes public land…through purchases of private land that folks want to sell to DNR or the state of Alaska,” Begich said. “It’s likely to become more conservative.”

Researchers figured a total waterfront length of 130 miles, including both banks of the Kenai, of which, about 25% had been preserved or improved.

Shaylon Cochran is a host and reporter at KDLL in Kenai. He’s reported on fishing, energy, agriculture and local politics since coming to Alaska in 2011. He has worked at KDLL/KBBI on the Kenai Peninsula, where he picked up lots of new hobbies, like smoking salmon, raising chickens, skiing and counting RV’s. He holds a bachelors degree in Journalism from Iowa State University.

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