A “listening session” was held and recorded in Cooper Landing this week as part of an organized effort to record community residents’ observations of change on the Kenai Peninsula. (Photo provided by Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)

A “listening session” was held and recorded in Cooper Landing this week as part of an organized effort to record community residents’ observations of change on the Kenai Peninsula. (Photo provided by Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)

Refuge notebook: Voices of the Kenai


I’ve had the privilege recently to hear what other residents think about changes they have witnessed in their lifetimes here on the Kenai Peninsula.

Working closely with a small group of professional colleagues to figure out a different way of approaching climate change, we realized there are many stories to be heard, if we would hold some “listening sessions.” So we have launched a modest effort to capture those stories, dubbed Voices of the Kenai.

Besides me, our steering committee includes Branden Bornemann (Kenai Watershed Forum), Willow Hetrick (Chugach Regional Resource Commission), Syverine Bentz (Kachemak Bay Research Reserve) and Bjorn Olson (Kachemak Bay Conservation Society). Three of our group are lifelong residents themselves, having grown up in Homer, Moose Pass and Seward.

This week we were at the Snug Harbor Senior Haven in Cooper Landing. Last month we were hosted at the Sea Otter Community Center in Seldovia. Each event was attended by at least a couple dozen engaged and informed residents of those communities.

From one woman who has lived in Cooper Landing for more than a half century, we heard that nearby alpine slopes like Cecil Rhode Mountain really had fewer shrubs and trees when she was young, an observation consistent with scientific data.

Roman Dial at the Alaska Pacific University and his colleagues published two journal articles that estimate tree line has risen 1 meter per year and shrub line 2.7 meters per year in the Kenai Mountains since the 1950s.

One longtime resident commented there is a lot less wildlife than she remembers 40 years ago, when bears, moose, porcupines, coyotes and wolves were frequently sighted from her car bumping down the Seward Highway.

Another said Kenai Lake doesn’t freeze as often as it used to, and algae now grows in coves of that lake where it had once been clear.

Several Cooper Landing residents reminisced about how they used to go “wooding” (firewood harvesting) in their trucks on Kenai Lake. Driving on the lake, skiing, snowmachining and other forms of recreation on Kenai Lake ice have diminished greatly in recent decades.

These observations are consistent with statistical models generated by the Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning at the University of Alaska Fairbanks that forecast winters in Cooper Landing, defined by average monthly temperatures below freezing, will soon go from five months per year to only two.

This is a different way to approach sharing information about climate change. Previous local workshops that I’ve been part of over the years were well-organized efforts by universities and agencies, but focused more on providing information than gathering information.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge hosted Climate Friendly Refuges at the Kenai Visitor Center in 2011. The Chugach National Forest and University of Alaska Anchorage hosted Classrooms for Climate. The National Park Service hosted Climate Change Café and Climate Change Scenarios Planning.

The Chugach Regional Resource Commission hosted a Climate Change Workshop focused on Alaska Native communities in our area. Most recently, the League of Women Voters sponsored Climate Change in our Backyard here at the Kenai Peninsula College. I would characterize these efforts as taking a top-down approach.

Voices of the Kenai is taking a bottom-up approach. Michael Opheim, environmental coordinator with the Seldovia Village Tribe said, “I thought the discussions had were probably better than a better part of group discussions I’ve been involved in at the conferences I have attended over the years. I don’t recall the last time I have seen that many people attending a presentation like that.”

Michael is taking it to the next level, agreeing to work with Bret “Hig” Higman (Ground Truth Trekking) to create a local working group on climate change.

We are treating these observations almost as a legacy. With a little funding from the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative, Bjorn Olson is putting on his other hat to record these listening sessions as an award-winning filmmaker. His short film, “Alaska Thaw,” was the 2018 Winner of the Witnessing Change Video Competition held at the Colorado Environmental Film Festival.

One of the expected products of Voices of the Kenai will be production of a short film that highlights the changes collectively seen from the vantage of the Kenai Peninsula.

In April, our group hopes to go to Port Graham and Nanwalek. This fall, we’ll head over to Seward. Each session is expected to take on its own flavor, driven by participants, the local issues and the local hosts who help set this up.

One of the unexpected perks of this effort is that our group members are now honorary members of the Cooper Landing Sexy Senior Dumpster Cleaners. I think this may mean that we need to go back to Cooper Landing and help pick up trash along the roads. But this is a small price to pay to hear the stories and voices of the Kenai.

Dr. John Morton is the supervisory biologist at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Find more Refuge Notebook articles (1999-present) at https://www.fws.gov/Refuge/Kenai/community/Refuge_notebook.html.

More in Sports

Homer’s Carter Tennison rushes past Nikiski’s Charlie Chamberlain and Koleman McCaughey on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, at Nikiski High School in Nikiski, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
All-Peninsula football awards released

Kenai Peninsula athletic directors and football coaches came together to release the… Continue reading

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Laudon Poellinger jumps on the boards to celebrate his first-period goal against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs with Brandon Lajoie and Ryan Reid at the Soldotna Sports Center in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Bears top Wilderness in scrimmage

The Kenai River Brown Bears moved to 3-0 in exhibitions with a… Continue reading

Kasey Renfro and Seth Payment show off their tier rock wall on Skyline Trail. (Photo provided by Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)
Refuge Notebook: Skyline gets much-needed upgrades after the fire

Skyline Trail was the top priority for getting trail work done and… Continue reading

A section of the Diamond Creek beach has built up, with plants growing where 10 years ago there had been bare mud, as seen here on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, near Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Out of the Office: Annual CoastWalk beach trek reveals changes, transformation

Volunteers in annual Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies program clean up, monitor beaches

Kenai River Brown Bears defenseman Ryan Reid battles Ignat Belov of the Maine Nordiques for the puck Friday, Jan. 17, 2020, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Brown Bears score 2 exhibition wins

The Kenai River Brown Bears notched a pair of exhibition victories over… Continue reading

The author is seen here, sharing the world at Lassen Volcanic National Park in California. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Lewis)
Tangled Up in Blue: Me, me, me

When I wait until the last minute to write Tangled Up in… Continue reading

A long, white strip of soft, white feathers running down the back gives the downy woodpecker its name. (Photo by Colin Canterbury/USFWS.
Refuge Notebook: The smallest woodpecker

On a recent sortie looking for grouse in the spruce forest of… Continue reading

ASAA delays the start of hockey to Oct. 26

The Alaska School Activities Association announced Monday that the start of the… Continue reading

Kenai Central's Jayna Boonstra receives a hug from father and Kardinals coach, Todd Boonstra, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, at the ASAA cross-country running championships at Kincaid Park in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo by Joey Klecka)
Kenai’s Boonstra wins Division II cross-country title

SoHi finishes season of tribute to McKenney

Nikiski's Koleman McCaughey rushes against Houston on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, at Nikiski High School in Nikiski, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Houston football topples Nikiski

Hawks move to Division III semis

Soldotna's Josh Heiber escapes the tackle of Kenai Central's Tucker Vann on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020, at Justin Maile Field at Soldotna HIgh School. Heiber would run to the end zone on the play, but the score would not stand due to a penalty. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
SoHi football tops Kenai to close regular season

Stars’ playoff opponent goes into quarantine