Alaska sets aside money each year for projects that contribute to healthy salmon stocks and habitats.
The Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund is the state’s share of a federal program geared toward protecting Pacific salmon populations. The fund is also distributed between five other states and tribal partners.
In recent years, AKSSF has funded about 20 projects annually. There are lots in motion at any one time.
"We compete for a federal grant every year, that’s happening as we speak,” said Debbie Maas with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. She’s program coordinator for AKSSF.
“And so we generally have a call for proposals every year to use those funds that we receive,” she said. “But our grants last five years. And so our projects initially can last about three and a half years.”
Projects have to fit within the fund’s objectives. There are several, from eradicating invasive species detrimental to salmon, to investigating the decline of Chinook populations used for subsistence. The objectives, in turn, come from priorities set on a federal level, by Congress and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Kenai Watershed Forum is actively working on two projects through AKSSF. Branden Bornemann is executive director for the forum. (And just a note, he’s also on KDLL’s board of directors.)
“It would be hard to overstate the importance of that sort of specific, directed fund to the work that we do,” he said.
One of the projects is a partnership with Cook Inletkeeper and Kachemak Heritage Land Trust to better understand four Kenai Peninsula salmon streams using thermal infrared imagery.
They’re all anadromous waters that flow from federal land to non-federal land, like Beaver Creek.
“So their headwaters are protected in the refuge, or in the forest, or in the National Parks System or another federal protection unit,” Bornemann said. “And then the mouth of those rivers flows through private property. So we kind of view it as losing that protection, if you will.”
The infrared imagery returns information about the surface temperature of those waters.
“So it provides to us this really colorful, beautiful map which we can use to determine where there are potential cold water inputs to streams,” he said.
That’s a big deal because stream temperatures are rising in Southcentral Alaska and beyond, he said. The colder springs and tributaries that feed into streams can help buffer them against that warming.
Private property owners who have these streams running through their land may not know that, which is where the Watershed Forum could come in.
“And [tell] them what a fantastic thing they have and seeing if we can work through any avenues to get them to protect that cold water input,” Bornemann said.
AKSSF is funding the Watershed Forum’s project at $73,927, plus a local match of $25,875. Recipients are required to provide matches of at least 35 percent on top of their requested funds.
The Watershed Forum’s other project is geared toward locating and documenting fish and their habitats for the Department of Fish and Game’s Anadromous Waters Catalog.
“Through which they receive a pretty foundational set of protections,” Bornemann said.
He says they try to target waters that aren’t already in the catalog, including some in North Kenai, and to substantiate areas that may have outdated data. AKSSF is funding the project at over $43,392, with a $15,188 match.
AKSSF is accepting proposals until June 15, for funding starting March 2022. Maas said they don’t yet know how much they can give out for the current round of proposals, but estimates there will be $3.8 million available.
Projects must directly address one of AKSSF’s outlined objectives. Recipients will have to submit reports every six months.
“I would recommend that people thoroughly read the instructions,” Maas said. “Surprisingly, that doesn't always happen. There's a lot of good information in there.”
Projects are scored and judged by a panel of independent reviewers.
There will be a webinar at 9 a.m. on May 19 for applicants who have questions about the process. For more, visit AKSSF.org.