Most people understand the banks of streams and lakes provide important habitat for salmon. Many people also recognize these natural areas protect private property by stabilizing banks and reducing the risks of flood damage. But did you know that natural stream banks on private property also can increase property value?
The destruction of natural stream banks has helped accelerate the demise of wild salmon from Europe to New England to the Pacific Northwest. In Alaska, we continued to repeat the mistakes made elsewhere.
In 2011, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted 7-2 to pass an important ordinance (2011-12), which established 50 foot protected areas adjacent to all salmon streams and lakes in the Kenai Peninsula Borough. This ordinance recognized the need to protect the headwater streams where our salmon spawn and rear. Unfortunately, a loud and vocal minority pushed back, and forced another vote on salmon habitat protections in June 2013. There, thousands of Alaskans spoke out, and the Kenai Borough Assembly voted yet again to protect salmon habitat.
The Assembly recognized the vital need to protect the delicate fabric of salmon habitat throughout the region that support our economy, our communities and our families. These setbacks prohibit major construction, excavation, and extensive clearing of vegetation within 50 feet of streams, but allow vegetation control, the removal of dead trees, building boardwalks, docks and fish cleaning stations. In other words, the ordinance strikes a reasonable balance between private property rights and the public interest.
Unfortunately, this issue has arisen yet again, driven by ideological interests from the National Association of Realtors and others that ignore the basic science around salmon habitat protection. On June 16th, the Kenai Assembly will consider Ordinance 2015-14, which marks a sweeping rollback for salmon habitat across vast parts of the Kenai Borough.