By Jenny Neyman
A decision by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to allow fencing to be installed around sensitive beach grass-covered dunes on the south shore of the mouth of the Kasilof River and to initiate a process to designate the region as a Special Use Area in order to better manage increasingly heavy use is a case of good news, not-as-great-as-hoped news for Brent Johnson, president of the Kasilof Historical Society, the group that applied to install the fence.
But at this point, after more than a year of waiting, wading through red tape and jumping through hoops involved in the permit process, Johnson is happy to take what approval he can get, as long as it means the mouth of the Kasilof, which has seen steadily increasing summer fishing season use and abuse, can finally get some protection.
“The fence decision wasn’t everything I asked for,” Johnson said. “There are some pros and cons to the decision, but I have conferred with Robert Ruffner (executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum) and we both think this is still very worthwhile to build, and may even be a sensible decision.”
The historical society was allocated $60,000 by the Legislature to construct a fence, which was originally planned to encircle the entire grass dunes area on the south beach of the river, blocking access to trucks, RVs, four-wheelers and other vehicles that rip up fragile beach grass that serves to protect the ecologically important dunes. The fence as originally proposed would mean all traffic would have to drive on the beach sand below the dunes to reach the river mouth, rather than driving on the commonly used trail that’s been cut into the dunes from decades of vehicle traffic.
The DNR Division of Mining, Land and Water, which oversees the area, approved a fence permit in late September, but stipulated that a fence must leave the traditional-use access road open. That means the historical society either needs to come up with more money to encircle the grass below the access trail as well as fence off the rest of the dunes above the trail, find cheaper fencing material to stretch funds to cover both areas, or simply abandon protection of the grass below the trail, facing the water.
“DNR decided to hold the fence back from the leading edge of the grass and to allow it on the upland side of the trail nearest the beach,” Johnson said. “I wanted to build the fence where it would best protect the habitat. The bottom line is, we can only build the fence where the public will accept it, and where DNR will permit it.” Continue reading