The Habitat Enhancement work of the habitat program protects and enhances spill area ecosystems that support EVOS-affected resources and services through active restoration activities. Together with strategic habitat purchases as described further below, these active restoration initiatives address habitat fragmentation and improve access to miles of important fish spawning, rearing and fish and waterfowl migratory habitats and thus support EVOS-affected services such as recreation, subsistence and commercial fishing. Current habitat enhancement projects include initiatives in which multiple state and federal agencies collaborate on multi-year projects with efficient leveraging of existing agency and third-party resources. These projects often add value to previous EVOSTC investments by improving habitats associated with parcels earlier purchased for their habitat value. Council funding also often stimulates additional funding from other sources. Recent Habitat Enhancement Projects funded by the Council include the following:
FY17-18: Buskin River Watershed ($4.5 million of EVOSTC funding): The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard and the US Fish and Wildlife Service worked with three landowners in the Buskin River watershed on Kodiak Island to implement a watershed-scale project to restore aquatic connectivity and natural ecosystem processes to the entire watershed. The project removes 20 culverts and associated historical debris that have historically blocked adult and juvenile fish movements to quality spawning and rearing habitats and/or negatively impacted aquatic ecosystem processes such as water temperature and flow, sediment transport that maintains aquatic habitats, and marine-derived nutrient delivery to the freshwater and terrestrial ecosystem. The project replaces and removes existing culverts to restore access to 6 miles of stream habitat and 53 acres of lakes and supports sockeye salmon and Dolly Varden near the community of Kodiak. Increased salmon abundance in the Buskin River and associated nearshore marine waters additionally benefits other EVOS-affected species in the area that utilize salmon as a direct source of food and nutrients. This project also helps restore EVOS-affected services, specifically the important subsistence salmon fishery at the mouth of the Buskin River, fish and wildlife oriented recreation throughout the watershed, and the commercial fishery in Chiniak Bay.
FY 17-19: ADNR State Parks Habitat Restoration and Protection Projects ($2.2 million of EVOSTC funding): This suite of projects encompasses six riverbank restoration projects that address fish habitat restoration and the protection of habitats that support numerous species affected by EVOS. The projects target streamside habitat that has been adversely impacted by human activity and also to provide continuing habitat protection into the future. These projects are supported and aligned with the Kenai River Comprehensive Management Plan and are supported by NOAA, the Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board and Kenai River Sportfishing Association.
FY15-17: Kenai Peninsula Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Project ($7.5 million of EVOSTC funding): This project included the collaboration and support of ADF&G, ADOT&PF, USFWS,NOAA/NMGS, Kenai Watershed Forum, Trout Unlimited, and the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust to improve fish passage at key road crossings on the Kenai Peninsula (mostly culverts). The project focused on high resource watersheds to eliminate at least fifty-five barriers on the Kenai Peninsula and improve fish access to an estimated 100 miles of important spawning, rearing and migratory habitats, including those related to parcels previously protected with EVOSTC funding.
FY12-16: Cordova Clean Water Projects ($450,000 of EVOSTC funding): NOAA worked in conjunction with local communities in the Spill-impacted area to support projects focusing on harbor run off, hazardous substance disposal and snow removal and storage to reduce water pollution.
The long-term protection of threatened habitat, considered essential for the well-being of species injured by the oil spill, was one of the earliest goals of the Trustee Council. Restoration efforts in the Pacific Northwest have taught us that habitat protection is essential to the health of salmon species. Researchers have concluded that depleted salmon populations cannot rebuild if habitat that is critical during any of their life stages is seriously compromised. This lesson extends as well to the other fish, birds, and mammals that nest, feed, molt, winter, and seek shelter in the spill area. Habitat protection also supports the restoration of commercial fishing, subsistence, recreation, and tourism, all of which are dependent upon healthy productive ecosystems.
Protection of habitat is a restoration activity used in natural resource restoration programs across the country and consistent with this, the Trustee Council has provided funds to government agencies to acquire title or conservation easements from willing sellers of land determined to be important for its restoration values. The decision to spend significant funds on habitat protection was included as part of the Council&srquo;s Restoration Plan in 1994 and further detailed by Council Resolution and federal legislation in 1999. To date, Trust Funds have been used to protect approximately 650,000 acres of land. A catalog of Trustee Council habitat acquisition efforts is attached as Appendix Q. An update is currently being prepared by ADNR.
Through the habitat protection program, over 1,400 miles of coastal habitats and more than 300 anadromous rivers, streams and spawning areas have been protected and made available for public access and activities, including hunting and fishing-related recreation. Small parcels have also been protected, typically encompassing strategically located habitats, such as coves, important stretches of river, the mouths of rivers or land adjacent to valuable tidelands. Many parcels of interest are often close to spill area communities or within already protected areas, such as refuges and parks, and are typically supported by local legislators, city councils and borough assemblies, commercial fishermen, sport fishing and hunting groups. These lands are acquired for their habitat qualities as well as their importance for subsistence and recreational use. Through the program, over 1,855 acres along the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers and their watersheds, including several miles of shoreline, have been protected, as have 3,254 acres along the Moose River, a major sockeye salmon producer that feeds into the Kenai River. Over 170 acres have been protected on the Anchor River sheltering over two miles of river frontage and 500 acres of contiguous intact floodplain communities, thus, providing important spawning and rearing habitat for four species of salmon and the largest steelhead run in Cook Inlet.