A spruce bark beetle is seen on the underside of a piece of bark taken from logs stacked near Central Peninsula Landfill on Thursday, July 1, 2021, near Soldotna . (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

A spruce bark beetle is seen on the underside of a piece of bark taken from logs stacked near Central Peninsula Landfill on Thursday, July 1, 2021, near Soldotna . (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai to mitigate hazard trees through mid-May

The city last year adopted the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan

The City of Kenai will continue mitigating hazardous trees for an additional two weeks in May because of temperate weather, the city’s fire chief told council members Wednesday.

Kenai Fire Chief Tony Prior provided an update on the city’s mitigation efforts to council members on Wednesday. The city last year adopted the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan, which identifies trees impacted by spruce bark beetles as a hazard. Dead trees are prone to falling over and are especially susceptible to fires.

Treatment of beetle-killed trees by the city, Prior said, will continue through the first two weeks of May because of mild temperatures. Prior said the city hopes to go out to bid for the next phases of the city’s tree removal initiative soon, so that contractors are ready to resume mitigation work this fall, when “the beetles are not flying anymore.”

Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel and Kenai City Manager Terry Eubank told attendees at this year’s State of the City address that the city was able to take down hundreds of hazardous trees in 2022. The city’s mitigation efforts have been aided by multiple grants.

The city used $150,000 from the Alaska Division of Forestry to set up a slash disposal site near the city’s soccer fields. The site, which will operate for at least three years, saw more than 800 visits in 2022, reflecting about 75 acres of land treated, Kenai’s Parks and Recreation Department said last year.

Kenai last fall also received $770,000 in grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Alaska Division of Forestry for hazard tree mitigation along Shqui Tsatnu Creek.

When asked earlier this month, Eubank said the State of Alaska is planning to roll out another grant program this year that would assist municipalities like Kenai with re-treeing efforts. He said the city wouldn’t expect trees or seedlings to arrive in Kenai until 2024 or 2025

“The landscape in Kenai has really changed with the spruce bark beetle and yes, I do think there’s going to be some tree planting that goes on to try to reforest our area,” Eubank said during the “State of the City” address.

Eubank told council members Wednesday that, this year, the city’s slash disposal site cannot open until the dirt road into the site becomes less muddy. The city hopes to have the site up and running as soon as possible, he said.

As of 2020, more than 150,000 acres of forest had been impacted by spruce bark beetle infection on the Kenai Peninsula, including about 21,000 acres of forested land between Cooper Landing, Kenai and Soldotna.

Wednesday’s city council meeting can be streamed on the city’s YouTube channel.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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