Thursday, September 25, 2008

Guest editorial — Research, restoration, education are Kenai Watershed Forum’s mission

What is, who is, where is the Kenai Watershed Forum? As a new employee of the Kenai Watershed Forum, commonly known as KWF, I have heard the aforementioned questions a lot in the past six months. Most people have heard of KWF, but don’t know much about who we are and what we do.

KWF is a nonprofit organization formed in 1997 by a group of people looking to ensure the wellness of our community’s greatest resource, the Kenai River. Headed up by Executive Director Robert Ruffner, KWF has expanded its original vision to encompass the current mission statement, “to work together for healthy watersheds on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska.” The Kenai Watershed Forum seeks to accomplish this mission by focusing on three main components: research, restoration and education.

Research programs in our community have made a definite impact. In prior years, the hydrocarbon levels on the Kenai River were so high the river was placed on federal notice. As a result, limiting the use of two-stroke motors has shown significant improvement to the river’s hydrocarbon levels. The Kenai River and its tributaries are monitored year-round for flow and temperature as well as turbidity, dissolved oxygen, conductivity and pH, providing valuable information to public and governmental agencies.

Restoration projects have had a positive effect in our community through damaged culvert replacements, which make miles and miles of streams available to salmon for spawning. Restoring fish passage not only helps adult and juvenile salmon access the habitat they need, it also provides a safer passage on roads and trails for cars and people.

You may have seen some of our staff and community volunteers along roadsides this summer on weed pulls. Invasive weeds are not just a nuisance to deal with, they are potentially damaging to our wildlife stock. These weeds take over and choke out the naturally sustaining plants that moose and other wildlife use for food, leaving our wildlife searching other places for meals.

Education is equally important. In order for our research and restoration efforts to improve the quality and health of the watersheds on the peninsula, the public needs to be aware of the issues and what they can do to help in the pursuit of a quality watershed.

Adult education is served through summer and winter speaker series, offering community experts the opportunity to share their knowledge and concerns. Yearly teacher workshops increase the influence of living in a healthy environment to our young people.

The program you might already be familiar with, Adopt-A-Stream, has perhaps the greatest impact. Last school year, nine different classes at four different schools participated in water quality monitoring, data collection and instruction at nearby streams. This school year 11 classrooms have signed on for the program. Bringing tomorrow’s leaders alongside us as we work to inform and educate has been a highlight for KWF.

Often, KWF serves the mission statement by sponsoring community programs open to the public. Last spring the annual Kenai Birding Festival included a children’s juried art show, drawing hundreds of submissions from young budding artists with a focus on our winged wildlife. The Kenai River Festival, held annually in June, celebrates our famous river with food, music, Alaska arts and crafts, and many educational and creative booths for children. A special appearance by Shluka, KWF’s 20-foot-long salmon (modeled after a Chinese dragon) is always a crowd pleaser.

We value our supporter base, as well as the volunteers that turn out to help with each event we sponsor. We also hold high the relationships that have developed between KWF and governmental agencies, community groups and local merchants. Working together is the only way to improve the health of watersheds on the Kenai Peninsula, and we are proud to be part of that process.

Rhonda Orth is the accounting and office manager at the Kenai Watershed Forum.

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