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Nonprofit protects watershed, completes Cooper Landing bypass mitigation

Kachemak Heritage Land Trust

In 2020, Kachemak Heritage Land Trust, or KHLT, was selected by the Alaska Department of Transportation to monitor and preserve wetland properties near the Cooper Landing Bypass project. The highway project, which will divert traffic around Cooper Landing through the mountains north of town, required mitigation measures by the Army Corps of Engineers for any wetlands impacted by construction

A DOT contractor determined the project affected about 40 acres of wetlands within the Kenai River watershed. KHLT identified additional wetlands impacted that fall into the nonprofit’s criteria for land trust conservation.

“Even though we needed to only mitigate for these 40 acres of wetlands, we ended up protecting substantially more just to get those specific 40 acres protected,” said Lauren Rusin, conservation projects manager with KHLT. “Land gets conserved on the Kenai River and tributaries to the Kenai River that would otherwise be open for development, subdivision, etcetera, and it’s now protected for the wetlands. The land trust will keep them open for recreation access and wildlife habitat forever.” 

Throughout KHLT’s five mitigation projects at the site, over 200 acres of the watershed have been protected. Working with DOT, the nonprofit purchased private properties or worked with private landowners to protect areas of wetland they believe are most vulnerable.

The nonprofit says conserving wetland habitat is critical to salmon and other anadromous fish populations in the Kenai River. They also say wetland conservation is important to natural pollution filtration, flood management, sediment control and more.

“We are able to look at these places that have groundwater flows from wetlands and anadromous tributaries, and point out the spots that are super important to them," Rusin said. "And, pick and choose those places that we can piece together on the peninsula to protect and allow for access to recreation and fishing for humans, but also protect wetlands that accomplishes the DOT’s goals for their wetland mitigation.”

KHLT has been protecting land on the peninsula for 35 years, and staff say they’re more informed than other land trust groups on where important wildlife corridors and supplemental salmon habitat are located.

“We have a really good handle on what’s important to protect down here, so we were able to meet the DOT’s requirements while also capitalizing on properties we already knew were super important recreation habitat,” Rusin said.

The nonprofit’s Cooper Landing Bypass mitigation project was officially completed in March. For more information about Kachemak Heritage Land Trust’s current conservation projects, visit their website.

Hunter Morrison is a news reporter at KDLL
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