The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly has decided to have a public hearing for an ordinance that would repeal some provisions of the Borough’s Anadromous streams protection order. After pulling this ordinance from the agenda at that Assembly’s first meeting in January, Assembly member Kelly Wolf’s proposal got the votes necessary to move forward .
In 2011, the Borough expanded habitat protection that was already on the books to include all of the water bodies on the Kenai Peninsula listed in the state’s catalog of anadromous streams, which was essentially all streams on the Peninsula.
Originally adopted in 1996 and expanded in 2000, the protection ordinance lays out what can and can’t be done within 50 feet of the high water mark of those water bodies in the interest of promoting healthy fish habitat. The expansion of the original ordinance has been hotly contested in a number of Assembly meetings and a series of town hall meetings with the Task Force charged with fine tuning the measure. In Anchor Point last month, members of the Task Force addressed the questions of why this sort of regulation is necessary.
“The more vegetation you have around the stream the less pollutants will enter the stream. Fertilizer is just one of the types of pollutants that can enter the stream. But also, plants provide a lot of nutrients to river systems. Leaves will fall into the stream to provide the nutrients for a good quality habitat,” said Ginny Litchfield, a habitat biologist with the Department of Fish and Game.
Another member of the Task Force and biology professor, David Wartinbee explained at that meeting how these systems work as a whole, with river and lakeside trees and other vegetation providing nutrients to insects which are the preferred dinner for growing fish.
“And in areas like lakes, the most important thing there is that you’ve got food to feed the very young fish because that’s why they’re there. They’re hanging out to grow.We also know that the bigger those fish are when they leave the lakes and head out to the oceans, the more of them that return and the more of them that survive,” he said.
Wartinbee went on to say that other parts of the world that have lost their salmon populations did not have the same kinds of protections for sustaining healthy fish habitat.
“The lakes and the ponds and the streams are like a nursery for young salmon and we need to protect that nursery. Just like you’d protect your schools, your kids; we need to do the same thing for our young salmon. That’s the kind of problem they’ve run into in other parts of the world, other parts of the country, and every one of us in this room is interested in fish and interested in them coming back and if we don’t do our part, we aren’t going to have them,” he said.
After some discussion about the best date for a public hearing, the Assembly voted 7-2, with members Linda Murphy and Mako Haggerty on the no side, to hold that public hearing on June 18th after the Task Force has wrapped up its work tweaking the ordinance.