Voices of the Peninsula: Stop treating landscape as though it’s a nuisance

  • By Rebecca Hinsberger
  • Monday, February 29, 2016 5:45pm
  • Opinion

Trees — let’s kill them, chop them down, shred them, burn them, bury them and eradicate all that we possibly can! Thankfully the beetles and forest fires have saved us a lot of work and reduced millions to nothing. After all, the trees are in the way of our development projects and obscure visibility of homes and businesses. Unfortunately many in our community have stubbornly retained some of these ghastly obstructions on their properties! Woe to those ignoramuses who consider them to be an asset worth keeping! Not until our peninsula is finally tree free, can we cease from our labors of eliminating this widespread malfeasance.

Sound rational? I hope not, but I sincerely 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? Does anyone care?

It’s true. 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. Kalifonsky 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.

Gravel lot after gravel lot has been created for development or sale in our communities, and elsewhere. The DOT continues to strong-arm its way down the highway right of way corridors, slashing and clearing hundreds of feet back from the highway pavement, mowing down every tree it possibly can, simply because it can. Some homeowners who have depended on tree buffers to retain privacy and to cut down highway noise and lights from passing cars at night have begged the DOT to please agree to leave just a few trees, or to limb them instead of cutting them down. They 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. But there is no mercy shown or given.

This practice of expansive setback cutting became apparent when the DOT cut the forest dramatically back on the east side of the Sterling Highway between Clam Gulch and Ninilchik. This was apparently to create an openness for sunlight to thaw the highway pavement as well as to make it possible to see moose farther back from the highway. (It was not needed for the gas line project, as many assumed). They did this also on K-Beach between Bridge Access and Kasilof, years ago. They are also doing this to most borough maintained side roads. They do not inform residents either. They have recently embarked on a similar project (public not notified) between Skyview Middle School and Clam Gulch. It looks terrible.

I have news for the DOT. But it shouldn’t be news at all, if they have been paying attention. 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 lessened risk. 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, this cutting is only effectively allowing for more sunlight onto the pavement in late fall and early spring. Judging from the temps in the last few years, it’s unlikely this practice will even be needed.

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 straight-a-ways need little to no cutting for this purpose. But the straight-a-ways are being radically cut in order to accommodate moose viewing. But this will only remain effective for two years, when the brush surges back and calls in the moose. So there is actually no real need to cut back the forest hundreds of feet from the highway, unless, of course the forests are despicable to the DOT, and they can create jobs with their funding for state employees and the subcontractor doing the cutting. And where is this funding coming from? State or federal? The Soldotna DOT doesn’t seem to know where it comes from! (Or so they state.) If it’s state funds, or even a portion of state funds, how are we affording this expensive questionable project when radical cuts are being implemented across the state wherever possible by our legislators?

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, limb trees that are on the outer edge of the forest to allow visibility some distance into the forest. This retains integrity of the forest and eliminates the problem of creating a brush dense habitat for moose to browse in. Spray the brush occurring in the 50 feet between the pavement and forest edge in the summer, once, with a foliar herbicide (I know about one that I use, but there are choices) that will kill the brush systemically. You only need to cover some leaves with a light spray and it isn’t contaminating the ground because it isn’t a heavy enough dose to drip. Besides, it’s deactivated as it dries, so it is basically safe. In the winter the brush can be cut. Let the slash and roots decay a couple seasons and then seed lupine or some other attractive native grass or flowering plant. The roadsides will look like a park, instead of a slashed ragged, brushy, unattractive mess.

OK. So that’s the roadsides that look like a wasteland. The gravel commercial parcels are another concern, one that perhaps only the borough can address once the public applies some pressure to do something about it. Then there are town businesses along our main roads who have not bothered to landscape, and should have left native trees here and there on their parcels to begin with. There are residential developers who get away with mowing down the entire forest before putting in track homes. Gravel pit owners need to reclaim their pits responsibly. Box stores, hotels, and the like clear cut their acreage, and later plant small non-native trees to satisfy city landscaping requirements, which is not adequate, in my opinion. Native trees must be retained. Some businesses that did have beautiful well established native trees have cut them down for one reason or another. Is anyone noticing this degradation of our beautiful peninsula environment besides me?

I am doing what I can. This year I am working with a small volunteer high school crew to plant native trees in Soldotna.

I am also speaking up at Planning Commission meetings and talking to city planners. I have talked with Mayor Mike Navarre and various Assembly members, as well as state legislators. 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.

Rebecca Hinsberger lives in Kasilof.

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