Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion Kenai vice-mayor Brian Gabriel (center) answers an audience question as panel moderator Sammy Crawford (left) and borrough mayor Mike Navarre (right) look on during the Kenai Climate Conference at Kenai Peninsula College on Saturday March 28.

Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion Kenai vice-mayor Brian Gabriel (center) answers an audience question as panel moderator Sammy Crawford (left) and borrough mayor Mike Navarre (right) look on during the Kenai Climate Conference at Kenai Peninsula College on Saturday March 28.

Global change, local action

Scientists and citizens met to discuss the global ecological phenomenon of climate change in relation to Kenai Peninsula communities last weekend.

The Central Peninsula League of Women Voters organized a Kenai Climate Conference hosted Saturday by Kenai Peninsula College’s River View Campus. Member Sammy Crawford said it was meant to bring the public, politicians, and scientists into the conversations about climate change.

“Our whole mission is to educate voters,” Crawford said. “This to all of us is a major issue, and we need to set up a way for people to learn about it in a non-threatening way.

There’s no charge, there’s no questions at the end, there’s no test. It’s just a way to learn, and to rub elbows with all these amazing scientists.”

The five scientists who presented at the conference were local researchers including salmon stream ecologist Sue Mauger of Cook Inlet Keeper, Steve Baird of Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, Mitch Michaud of the United States Department of Agriculture, and biologist John Morton of the Kenai Wildlife Refuge. Morton was also a member of the conference’s organizing committee.

“I wanted to make sure that we had local science, as opposed to people from afar coming in to tell the locals,” Morton said.

Mauger presented her five-year study of water temperatures in 20 Peninsula salmon streams, and discussed how a rise in those temperatures could harm salmon.

Michaud spoke of global warming’s effects on fire patterns, Baird of how rising sea levels could influence Cook Inlet shore erosion, and Morton of effects on the Peninsula’s plants and wildlife.

Morton said that the data these scientists collectively gathered formed a coherent picture of climate change’s local effects.

“Different individuals with different areas of expertise are all saying the same thing,” Morton said.

“We’re just saying it in different ways. I wasn’t sure if that was going to happen. It did, and that was wonderful.”

The one scientist “from afar” was Dr. Jeremy Littell of the United States Geological Survey’s Alaska Climate Science Center, who discussed how global changes are influencing the Kenai Peninsula climate. Littell said this year’s unseasonably warm winter wasn’t necessarily a result of global climate change, but that it could be viewed in that context.

“You can’t say that this winter was directly caused by climate change, global warming and global warming alone,” Littell said.

“You can say that this is the kind of event that is consistent with the expectations [of the climate change hypothesis] and that the frequency of these kind of events should increase as we go forward in time.”

Littell said that science rooted in the specific ecology of the Kenai Peninsula would have to be met by public action, and be based on the area’s priorities.

“All adaptation to climate change is inherently local,” Littell said.

“The problem is global, but the adaptation has to be local, because each place is unique and has unique circumstances, and the people there have unique wishes and needs.”

The speakers named two possible types of reaction: mitigation and adaptation. Both were analyzed in the final event of the day, a panel in which local politicians spoke of what their councils had done to reduce carbon emissions and took questions from audience members about possible future actions. Kenai vice-mayor Brian Gabriel, Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor Mike Navarre, Soldotna Mayor Nels Anderson, Seward city council member Rissie Casagranda, and Homer Mayor Mary Wythe participated in the panel.

Navarre said that effective political will for climate action has to come from constituents rather than elected officials.

“One of the things that’s really difficult in the public policy arena is what I call the paradox of politics,” Navarre said. “That is that you can’t lead and advocate for change effectively unless you’re in office, and if you’re not careful about how you go about it, you’re not going to be in office in order to provide the change and leadership… It really speaks to the importance of forums and community discussions like this.”

Several organizers said that such political initiative was a desired product of the conference. Morton said he hoped the borough would be responsive to climate concerns.

“It would be wonderful if the borough — we’re not talking higher than the borough — would develop a strategic adaptation plan that would include the municipalities as partners,” Morton said.

At the end of the conference, moderator and Kenai Watershed Forum scientist Branden Bornemann invited attendees to submit their names to an email list intended to form a group to author the plan and present it to local governments.

Crawford said she hoped this would be a legacy of the conference.

“What we’d like to see is different groups come up with long-term plans,” Crawford said. “This is just a one-day splash. Let’s make it last longer.”

Reach Ben Boettger at

More in News

Nate Rochon cleans fish after dipnetting in the Kasilof River, on June 25, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
King closures continue; Kasilof dipnet opens Saturday

The early-run Kenai River king sport fishery remains closed, and fishing for kings of any size is prohibited

An "Al Gross for Congress" sign sits near the driveway to Gross’ home in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, after he announced plans to withdraw from the U.S. House race. Gross has given little explanation in two statements for why he is ending his campaign, and a woman who answered the door at the Gross home asked a reporter to leave the property. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
Alaska judge rules Sweeney won’t advance to special election

JUNEAU — A state court judge ruled Friday that Alaska elections officials… Continue reading

Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion 
Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen listens to a presentation from Alaska Communications during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska.
ACS pilots fiber program in certain peninsula neighborhoods

The fiber to the home service will make available the fastest internet home speeds on the peninsula

Nurse Tracy Silta draws a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the walk-in clinic at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling Highways in Soldotna, Alaska on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. COVID-19 vaccines for kids younger than 5 years old are now approved by both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
COVID shots for kids under 5 available at public health

Roughly 18 million kids nationwide will now be eligible to get their COVID vaccines.

Megan Mitchell, left, and Nick McCoy protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning of Roe v. Wade at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways on Friday, June 24, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Heartbroken’, ‘Betrayed’: Alaskans react to Roe decision

Supreme Court decision ends nearly 50 years of legally protected access to abortion

Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years, a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court’s landmark abortion cases. (AP Photo / Jose Luis Magana)
Alaskans react to Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade

The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion.

Tara Sweeney, a Republican seeking the sole U.S. House seat in Alaska, speaks during a forum for candidates, May 12, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/ Mark Thiessen)
Lawsuit says Sweeney should advance in Alaska US House race

The lawsuit says the fifth-place finisher in the special primary, Republican Tara Sweeney, should be put on the August special election ballot

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker stands in the Peninsula Clarion office on Friday, May 6, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska AFL-CIO endorses Walker, Murkowski, Peltola

The AFL-CIO is Alaska’s largest labor organization and has historically been one of its most powerful political groups

A portion of a draft letter from Jeffrey Clark is displayed as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Federal agents search Trump-era official’s home, subpoena GOP leaders

Authorities on Wednesday searched the Virginia home of Jeffrey Clark

Most Read