Trees are a nuisance?
Let’s chop them down, shred them, burn them, bury them and eradicate all that we possibly can! After all, the trees are in the way of our development projects and obscure visibility of homes and businesses.
Sound rational? I hope not, but I fear that there may be those out there who actually feel this way. They certainly act this way. Our peninsula landscapes prove it. Has anyone else noticed this rapid transformation?
The character of our peninsula is changing from a rural forested environment, to an industrialized barren environment. It’s especially evident to those who have lived here at least 20 years. Between Soldotna and Kenai, Kalifornsky Beach Road is transforming into a treeless commercial thoroughfare, as developers, free of any city regulatory bodies, can “cut down paradise and put up a parking lot,” as Joni Mitchell used to sing.
The DOT continues to strong-arm its way down the highway right-of-way corridors, clearing hundreds of feet back from the highway pavement. Some homeowners who have depended on tree buffers to retain privacy and to cut down highway noise and lights from passing cars have begged the DOT to leave just a few trees, or to limb them instead of cutting them down. Most were never even notified of the project until the chainsaws showed up at their doorsteps. Many of these homes existed before the highway right-of-ways were platted and later expanded, leaving the homeowner with no alternative than to pray that they could retain buffers as long as possible.
Wildlife is impacted. Eagles nest in large cottonwoods and spruce. Without a second thought to federal laws about protecting eagles’ nests, the woods were eliminated without surveys along the highway. The DOT has little to no environmental awareness, even though the Department of Fish and Wildlife has warned them that animals such as bear will no longer cross these large open areas, trapping them on one side of the highway.
This clearing obviously results in increased brush — moose browse, no less! And it grows to sufficient height in two years to hide the moose! The DOT admits that they likely will not have the resources to keep the extensive moose feeding acreages they’ve created mowed regularly into perpetuity. Now, we have increased risk of moose accidents, instead of less. In fact, I recently hit a moose that was feeding in one of these cut but regrown right of ways, as it suddenly emerged from the brush and dashed onto the road.
As for the sunlight factor the DOT is claiming to be necessary, this cutting is only effectively allowing for more sunlight onto the pavement in late fall and early spring. This is a minor reason for cutting back the east sides of highways.
Sight distance for drivers on the highways, is the other reason for the extreme cut setbacks. The DOT states that only the curves merit the extended setbacks, so the straightaways need little to no cutting for this purpose.
And how are we affording this expensive questionable project when radical cuts are being implemented across the state wherever possible by our legislators? I know, it’s federally funded because someone in the DOT convinced the Fed that we need these “improvements,” but the state chips in too.
I do have suggestions for a better plan concerning the clearing of highway right of ways. I would like to see the DOT cut only 50 or so feet back from the road shoulders (the “safe zone” established by laws governing road construction) and then, thin and limb trees that are on the outer edge of the forest at that 50-foot point for about 50 more feet into the forest, to allow visibility some distance into the forest. This retains the beauty of the forest, allows retained trees to become healthy and full while still protected, allows motorists to see a moose emerging since widely distributed limbed tree trunks will not conceal them.
Lastly, this method eliminates the problem of destroying the ground surface with heavy equipment which results in moose browse. There are ways to eliminate the brush that will pop up in the 50 feet between the pavement and forest edge, which can then be seeded with lupine or some other attractive native grass or flowering plant. It will be more labor intensive up front, but little to no maintenance into perpetuity, saving the DOT lots of work.
The gravel commercial parcels are another concern, one that perhaps only the cities and borough can address. Gravel pit owners need to reclaim their pits responsibly. Box stores, hotels, and the like clear cut their acreage, and later plant small nonnative trees to satisfy city landscaping requirements, which is not adequate, in my opinion. Native trees must be retained.
I am doing what I can. Last year I started working with a small volunteer high school crew to plant native trees in Soldotna. I have also spoken up at Planning Commission meetings and talked to city planners. That resulted in a requirement to retain more native trees in residential developments. I have talked with borough and state lawmakers, most of whom agree with me. I have also written the Commissioner of the DOT.
I am only one person. I would hope that others who feel as I do will speak up and also do what they can. Let’s try to create a legacy of sound environmental stewardship and common sense management for this peninsula for the future generations that will hopefully still have its beauty to enjoy.