How do I sum up the Kenai Watershed Forum? A group of cooperative individuals who are motivated to work together amongst each other and with the community for the betterment of all the Kenai Peninsula. It is incredibly encouraging to see so many different agencies and members of the public all working together with KWF. I was often left with a feeling of hope and accomplishment after our days with the public, seeing the passion that our volunteers have. All were full of a drive to learn, make a difference and protect the rivers and lands they call home.
Kenai Watershed Forum was a welcoming and productive work environment, offering me a once in a lifetime intern experience. Most of the summer my coworkers and I would only see each other in passing as there is always much fieldwork to be done, but I always knew that if I ever needed advice or help it was there. There were many long days in the field as the invasive species intern, but I was always eager for the next. Surveying, spraying, cutting seed heads, and pulling invasives were all great times spent with passionate professionals and the public.
One memory that will stick with me forever is going to do an Elodea survey at King Lake. Elodea is a highly invasive aquatic plant likely to be spread to remote lakes primarily by float planes. My co-worker Nathan and I went out on a float plane with around 70lbs of gear each and were dropped off in a massive bog in the rain. Before the plane even left, we realized we were surrounded by bear scat and other signs of bear activity. We kept our bear-spray close as we began to hike to the highest ground we could find. Each step went deeper into the squishy, soaked vegetation more than it went forward. Finally finding a spot higher than the swamp surrounding us, we set up camp in the rain. All things said, once we made a fire it was rather cozy in the wilderness. We ate a hearty dinner in the field by the fire. That evening, we took advantage of the amazing location and went fishing. After cleaning trout slime from ourselves to prevent any bear issues, we warmed up once more by the fire before getting some much-needed sleep.
The next morning, we re-lit the fire and had a hot breakfast to knock the night’s cold from our bones. We packed up camp and once again began the most arduous ¾-mile hike of my life. We put all our gear in our pick-up location and began our survey. We spent hours paddling through nature so gorgeous it felt it shouldn’t be real. Identifying vegetation, thankfully all of which was native, and observing the wildlife made the survey not even feel like work. As we reached the point in which we had to begin our paddle back to the pick-up location, the wind had completely shifted, and the overcast sky opened with a torrential downpour. We paddled for nearly an hour before our plane, which arrived an hour early, made splashdown. The pilot picked us up and explained that two rainstorms were about to converge over us as we taxied to our gear. After grabbing our things and making the flight back to Kenai, we unloaded. We were soaked and tired but had smiles on our faces as we waited to be picked up by a coworker. My partner and I looked at each other and agreed we would do it all over again in a heartbeat!
I have to say thank you to KWF for the incredible memories and experiences I have gleaned from my time there!
I have had the honor of coming to work with KWF this summer through a fully funded opportunity with the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship, and in doing so, have had the opportunity to live a wildly unimaginable version of my dreams.
Everything I do revolves around the desire to be in, work with, advocate for, and preserve Nature, and unite people in conservation efforts. In the past few years I have been diving deep into using visual storytelling as a tool to move these efforts forward. It was my greatest hope for this summer that I might be able to apply my work in multimedia to a meaningful internship experience with an environmental organization whose values would align with mine. Finding KWF purely by fate in my search for such a match was the best that could have happened. Not only did I get to immerse myself in the gift of an Alaskan summer, but I have been continuously fulfilled by the opportunity to contribute to KWF’s work with Stream Watch, Invasives, Water Quality, community outreach and more. It has been tremendously impactful to experience such a variety of environmental work; I have been able to go out into the field in the swamps with my camera, meet dedicated members of KWF volunteer community, design graphics for distribution and public education, and collect both written and visual stories to highlight KWF’s unfaltering efforts to preserve and protect the health of the waters of the Kenai Peninsula.
I am eternally grateful for my time at the Kenai Watershed Forum, and for KWF being such an incredible example of what working together for betterment of the environment should look like. Within KWF I have found a flourishing spirit of community, a true reverence for the landscape, wildlife, and people, and a persevering attitude of inclusion that strives to unite all with the common goal of protecting the health of the Kenai Peninsula’s waters and resources. The genuine appreciation of the natural landscape and its resources that Alaskans and the KWF hold is greatly inspiring, and I am excited to take that perspective with me and apply it to my future work. Thank you, KWF, for this once in a lifetime opportunity dream come true!
My internship began when the Russian River ferns were no more than six inches tall. I watched as these plants sprouted taller each week till eventually, they stood taller than me. Being only five two it doesn’t take much to be taller than me but even so, their growth was drastic! In three short months I also witnessed the growth of many other things: baby moose, water levels in the Kenai River, number of salmon fillets in my freezer, and most notably myself.
This summer I moved across the country to join KWF’s team as a Stream Watch intern. I couldn’t have been more excited to get started but still I was nervous to be living in an entirely new environment. As I met the KWF staff my concerns began to dissipate. I received the warmest of welcomes from each and every one of them. They made me feel at home and comfortable in my new surroundings. Throughout the entire summer I received endless support and plenty of guidance from them all. In this environment that they had created, I myself was able to grow in many aspects, except vertically. I gained the much-needed job experience specific to my field of study. My knowledge in conservation, public education, even invasives and hydrology were expanded upon in this time too. Most important to me was my growth in confidence and the formation of amazing new friendships. I truly loved every minute of my time in Alaska and I cannot thank KWF enough for the opportunities and memories.
When I was first hired as a Stream Watch Intern, I had no idea what the title meant or how to explain to my family what I was moving to Alaska to do. I knew that the work was centered on river health and that was enough for me. Everyone chooses internships for their own reasons, and my goal was to experience as much as I could in terms of wildlife, culture, and career interests.
KWF was and continues to be a great place for me to grow as a professional. Within our organization, we have teams involved in invasive species, hydrology, education, and river restoration. This allowed me to spend time within each, and gifted me the opportunity to find out what I am passionate about. I found true joy in sharing my knowledge with others and helping people experience everything this beautiful state has to offer. Without this internship I would not have been exposed to as many environmentally based career paths or been able to network with outdoor professionals on a daily basis.
My final words — beware, those who say you may fall in love with the place and never leave. I came here with a one way plane ticket, and I’m staying until they kick me out!
Coming to the Kenai Watershed Forum, I knew I was going to love it. When I moved to Alaska, I wanted to work outside every day and make a positive impact; KWF was exactly what I was looking for.
I was thrown into the Kenai River Festival during my first week here, and there couldn’t have been a better way to start. During this event, I got to interact with people in the community and see how much they appreciate what our organization does. Even if people don’t know what our current projects are, they understand that we are here to protect and support the environment and resources that locals and tourists enjoy every day.
Additionally, I’ve had the opportunity to work with the kids at summer camp this year. It’s awesome to see how each of the children experiences Alaska and its environment differently. Some kids are way more excited than others, but they all love living here. Summer Camp Director Meg Pike and I got to do everything from teaching kids about macroinvertebrates and water chemistry testing, to seeing bears and baby salmon in the creek on our hike. Every kid was fascinated by something different, and it was inspiring to know that KWF offers such fulfilling experiences to local children.
Through both of these experiences and my work here this summer, I am getting to see the influence that KWF has in the community. We get to show adults and kids alike the importance of Alaskan resources, and renew their appreciation for the local environment.
~ Sara appreciated her time with KWF so much that she is staying on board as full-time staff following her internship ~
A new publication authored by KWF Water Quality Coordinator Benjamin Meyer was recently published in the journal Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. Prior to being at Kenai Watershed Forum, Ben was working on his graduate research through University of Alaska Fairbanks with work focused on the Kenai River.
The research began with the broad quandry, “What could climate change mean for juvenile salmon in the Kenai River?” Through time, the question grew narrower and more detailed: since juvenile salmon live in very different habitats throughout the Kenai River, from high, rushing glacial rivers to low, meandering wetland streams, how could climate change affect these populations differently?
For two summers Ben and other researchers captured and measured thousands of juvenile salmon from Beaver Creek to Ptarmigan Creek and everywhere in between. Along with size and weight data they also collected diet contents, scales, water temperature data, and other information. The data was used to model how juvenile fish growth rates could change under future climate conditions.
So what did we learn?
The results suggest that as water temperatures warm over the next century, baby king and silver salmon fry that live in low-elevation tributaries like Beaver Creek are likely to see decreases in summer growth rates. However, for salmon with lots of food in their bellies, warmer waters may not affect their growth rate as dramatically.
Science can often leave us with more questions than answers. Here, we hope that research like this can continue to inform and guide the priorities for conservation restoration in our region.
To read this article, follow the link below. A sincere thank you to all the fellow researchers, co-workers, and community members who contributed their time, sweat, and expertise to make this research happen.
In January 2022, we convened a team of 18 experts in fish habitat and conservation to develop a Conservation Action Plan for the Kenai Peninsula Fish Habitat Partnership. The plan outlines detailed strategies, threats, and recommended actions for freshwater fish habitat conservation in our region. The plan represents the thinking of many of the most cutting edge ecological researchers and managers working in the Kenai region, and will be a valuable tool for anyone planning work here.
In the above table (Figure 1), we summarized our consensus on which threats are most pressing in different types of freshwater aquatic systems.
To read on, find the 2022 plan along with the supplemental climate change document at https://www.kenaifishpartnership.org/cap/
Access the interactive Partnership area map at bit.ly/kpfhp_map, which includes details about each watershed within the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
We look forward to seeing where this plan takes us in the next ten years!
Kenai Watershed Forum has received all laboratory results from it’s Summer 2022 Baseline Water Quality Monitoring. The results are currently being prepared for upload to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Quality Exchange, a pubic data repository for water quality data. The results have not yet been analyzed to check against water quality standards; we expect to complete this by Summer 2023.
We worked with three laboratories in Summer 2022:
1.) Soldotna Wastewater Treatment Plant – SWWTP provided analyses of Total Suspended Solids:
2.) Tauriainen Engineering and Testing – Tauriainen provided analyses of Fecal Coliform
3.) SGS Laboratories, Anchorage – SGS provided analyses of all other substances monitored in Spring 2022, including nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, and metals like zinc, copper, lead, and others:
For questions about Summer 2022 water quality results, contact Benjamin Meyer, Water Quality Coordinator. Thank you again to all the participants and volunteers who made this event happen!
In Fall 2019, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) were notified of several adult pike caught in Vogel Lake near the Northwest tip of the Kenai Peninsula. Pike are a non-native fish species of great concern in south central Alaska, as they are voracious predators of juvenile salmonids when given the opportunity (see Dunker et al 2018 for a summary). Several watersheds in the nearby Mat-Su valley have seen pike colonize and nearly take over, with local managers making herculean efforts to slow their spread.
The Kenai Peninsula has thus far managed to escape the fate of the Mat-Su valley in terms of pike invasion. Pike were found in a number lakes and creeks in the Kenai/Soldotna area in the early to mid 2000’s, but were quickly contained and exterminated. In the case of Miller Creek, researchers believe that at least one or multiple pike arrived by swimming over from the Mat-Su through the Cook Inlet, likely during the Spring when high runoff levels create temporarily lowered salinity levels.
With the news that pike had arrived to Vogel Lake, local mangers reacted swiftly. Kenai Watershed Forum worked with ADF&G personnel in developing a proposed treatment plan, then applied for and received a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to support the work. KWF took the role of addressing project water quality monitoring and mapping before, during, and after the treatment process.
As of Fall 2022, evidence indicates the project has been successful in eliminating pike from the watershed. After treatment with the chemical rotenone in Fall 2021, subsequent monitoring in Summer 2022 has failed to capture pike, and the system is repopulating with native fish from adjacent lake systems.
To access Kenai Watershed Forum’s work on water quality and mapping efforts for this project, see the online report at the following link: Miller Creek and Vogel Lake Water Quality Report.
The report is best accessed in the online format linked above, but a static MS word document with the same information may be downloaded here also.
The Kenai Peninsula remains pike-free for the moment. The future of keeping it that way will depend on a combination of monitoring, research, and education. Local researchers and managers are continuing to monitor areas vulnerable to potential invasion, as well investigating salinity tolerance in pike found in south central Alaska.
One future valuable addition to prioritizing pike monitoring efforts for the Kenai Borough region would be to replicate the approach outlined by researchers who created a map of “vulnerability” to pike invasion for the Mat-Su valley (Jalbert et al. 2021). “This simple to implement, adaptable, and cost-effective framework will allow prioritizing habitats for early detection and monitoring of invading northern pike,” the authors write. Such tools would be highly useful for on-the-ground biologists in our region, tasked with surveying a large and remote area for invasive pike.
As long as pike are our distant neighbors, there’s the potential for them to visit again any time, and it’s our responsibility to be ready.
Dunker, K., Sepulveda, A., Massengill, R., and Rutz, D. 2018. The Northern Pike, A Prized Native but Disastrous Invasive. In Biology and Ecology of Pike. CRC Press. pp. 356–398. https://bit.ly/3V9Wp38. [accessed 10 October 2022].
Jalbert, C.S., Falke, J.A., López, J.A., Dunker, K.J., Sepulveda, A.J., and Westley, P.A.H. 2021. Vulnerability of Pacific salmon to invasion of northern pike (Esox lucius) in Southcentral Alaska. PLoS One 16(7): e0254097.
The summer (and ensuing fall) that I spent working with KWF proved to be the most influential period of my life both professionally and personally. Being surrounded by people so inspired to work for a resource that means so much to this ecosystem, economy, and the culture of this area shed some hope onto the impact that a small motivated group of people can have on an area they care about.
From a purely professional standpoint I developed more skills in the few months that I spent in Soldotna than I had in years prior. Performing extensive GIS projects, intense field work, grant writing, and gaining an understanding of how to work with people to maximize effectiveness (and maintain sanity) spurred my career development far more than any other job/internship I had previously had. Equally as important to all of that however, is the growth as a person I experienced. The people that I met (and you’ll have the pleasure of working with) are the warmest I’ve interacted with in my entire life and recognize the struggles that can come with being thousands of miles from home. The sense of community on the Kenai Peninsula is unlike anything I’ve experienced before, and allowed me to grow as a person in a highly transitional time in my life.
Working as an intern for the Kenai Watershed Forum shaped who I am today, as well as what I am looking for in the future. It provides the opportunity to do work that matters with good people, and frankly, for me, there’s not much out there that can top that.