Voices of the Peninsula: Sterling Highway Project questions prudent use of public money

  • By Ted Spraker
  • Tuesday, December 15, 2015 6:38pm
  • Opinion

As a retired wildlife biologist with the Department of Fish and Game having served over 28 years, with 24 years on the Kenai Peninsula dealing with all facets of wildlife management including moose/vehicle accidents, I have serious concerns with the justification of constructing a fence in a portion of the Sterling Highway Project to reduce vehicle/wildlife collisions. The issue of moose/vehicle accidents has been an extremely difficult challenge across the state. When I worked for ADF&G, I spent untold hours thinking about and discussing with colleagues ways to reduce road kills, and there are no “quick-fix” solutions. We considered the merits of reducing speed limits, road conditions and every other variable imaginable and the only common denominators were: drivers must be vigilant and road sides need to be cleared to allow better visibility.

In a recent article published by the Clarion on Dec. 11, 2015, “Sterling Highway to include wildlife infrastructure” stated “the road has one of the highest wildlife/vehicle collision rates,” but that’s simply not true. Most road-kills occur within a 15-mile radius of Soldotna.

Data U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, DOT and DOWL Engineering are using to justify fencing is over three decades old. In 2012, ADF&G reported an average of about four moose kills in this stretch of the highway. With a declining moose population, the kill is even less now. I question U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and DOT’s logic in advocating spending THREE MILLION extra dollars to construct a couple miles of fence and an overpass, in hopes of saving a few of moose, when that money could be used to improve visibly. In addition, the nine foot high fence will stop wildlife migration, prevent access to public lands and create a challenge for Emergency Responders in the event of wildfire in the area.

Short of fencing the entire length of a highway, which has been successfully used in Canada, there are no guaranteed methods to reduce wildlife/vehicle accidents. However, there are techniques that can reduce their occurrence. The second most effective method to reduce accidents is to install lights along roads to increase visibility but the cost would probably be prohibitive. The third method is to clear road right-a-ways and mow annually to destroy all regrowth of browse that attracts moose. Due to the absence of fire in this part of the Peninsula since the 1947 burn, the best moose browse is along our highways. Clearing is not a guarantee but it is the most cost-effective method. DOT and the Engineers of Sterling Highway Project have the opportunity to use funds more prudently with the following suggestions.

1. Clear road right-a-ways out to 75 feet from the center line which is adequate to spot moose and reduces cost of maintenance.

2. Using a dozer, grade right-a-ways to minimize mowing effort and reduce shadows that “hide” moose.

3. Mow right-a-ways annually in late June. Cutting browse in late June, at full leaf-out, will reduce the plant’s vigor and production the following year.

4. Investigate cost savings in maintenance between annual mowing and replanting with a low growing, perennial grass (boreal fescue) that moose will not eat.

In conclusion, I am very thankful that DOT is scheduling improvement work on this section of the Sterling Highway from mile 58 to 79; I am also appreciative that DOT has contributed to building a better highway infrastructure for Alaska. Governor Walker recently proposed a 100 million dollar reduction in the state budget, during a time when State and Federal governments are in fiscal crisis public funds should be used prudently.

Ted Spraker of Soldotna is a retired state wildlife biologist.

More in Opinion

Sens. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, left, and Robert Myers, R-North Pole, read through one of 41 amendments submitted to the state’s omnibus budget bill being debate on the floor of the Alaska State Senate on Monday, May 9, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Opinion: The Alaska Senate’s foolish gamble

“All these conservative people just spent all our money”

Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships. (logo provided)
Point of View: A few ideas for Mental Health Awareness Month

What are some things you can practice this month and subsequently apply to your life?

Alex Koplin is a founding member of Kenai Peninsula Votes. (courtesy photo)
Voices of the Peninsula: 1 candidate dined, 47 to go

By Alex Koplin Last month, I wrote a satirical piece for the… Continue reading

Smoke from the Swan Lake Fire impairs visibility on the Sterling Highway on Aug. 20, 2019. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: Alaskans should prepare for wildfire season

Several past large fire seasons followed snowy winters or unusually rainy springs

The logo of the Homer Trails Alliance.
Point of View: Connecting our community through trails

Homer is booming with housing development and the viability of long-standing trails is threatened

A copy of the State of Alaska Official Ballot for the June 11, 2022, Special Primary Election is photographed on May 2, 2022. (Peninsula Clarion staff)
How do I choose a candidate for this Special Primary Election?

You could start by making a list of your top choices with the issues they support that you care about

The Swan Lake Fire can be seen from above on Monday, Aug. 26, 2019, on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Alaska Wildland Fire Information)
Opinion: Supporting and protecting Alaskans during breakup and fire season

Our mantra is Team Alaska — we are here to help Alaskans and our communities.

Most Read